Ahh, the alerts, beeps, buzzes, pings and “likes” that punctuate our digital lives. Many people love the instant gratification of our 5G hyperconnectivity and the feeling of being “on” and “connected” at all times.
I personally question how this constant vying for our attention is working out for us. For many of us, it creates feelings of stress, hustle, burnout, FOMO (fear of missing out) and an inability to ever really slow down.
If you can relate to any of those feelings, you might want to consider a digital detox.
What is a digital detox?
A digital detox refers to a period of time when you refrain from using devices such as smartphones, televisions, computers, tablets, and/or social media sites. “Detoxing” from digital devices lets you focus on real-life social interactions without distractions. By relinquishing digital devices, at least temporarily, people can let go of the stress that constant connectivity can create.
Even if you feel like someone who can rein in your digital use, you might have experienced “digital creep”—the slow, incremental intrusion of devices on your personal time. If so, a digital detox offers a great way to recharge.
My first digital detox
I did my first digital detox on a trip to Tucson, AZ to celebrate our 10-year anniversary. Roy & I booked a three-night stay at a beautiful spa to relax, connect, unwind and celebrate.
I was in the midst of two creative work projects that had been consuming my attention and I simply felt that I needed to give my mind a break from all the incessant thinking that I do! I have learned for myself that even feeling inspired gets my mind going in a way that can be hard for me to “turn off.” I wanted to diminish any incoming “data” that would start that over-thinking cycle.
Another big challenge for me is email. As someone who has worked for herself for 20-years, I have personally noticed the “digital creep” that I previously mentioned. I often do work from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to bed, particularly responding to client emails. That takes me out of the present moment and to thinking about work and other things, and for three days I wanted to simply experience the “now.”
How to plan for a digital detox
A digital detox doesn’t mean you need to break up with your phone completely—but it does mean that you will need to create certain boundaries. A good goal is to define a digital detox that feels doable enough to maintain for a few days, but drastic enough to have an impact on your nervous system.
Here are a few tips to help you plan your digital detox—and some notes on what I personally did for mine.
- Choose a designated length of time. Choosing specific dates to stick to helps you shape the experience and make it concrete rather than open-ended. For example, I decided to start my digital detox when we got on the plane to AZ and end it when we returned to the airport to travel home to CO.
- Outline the parameters. Define what technology you will refrain from using. First, make a list of all the different ways you are online: internet, email, text messages, social media, music, TV, streaming, news, etc. Then, decide in advance what you will allow during the detox and what you will avoid. I personally avoided everything but streaming movies. Three-nights alone gave Roy & I the opportunity to snuggle by a fire and watch movies together, which is a real treat!
- Turn off notifications. While it’s nice to be in the know, it’s also incredibly distracting. Make it easier on yourself by turning off all notifications. This is something that I did many months before and I no longer get any notifications on my phone. I actually keep my phone silenced and only turn sound on at certain times to get text notifications, such as when I am waiting to hear from the big kids after school or when I am trying to coordinate plans. For my digital detox, I deleted Gmail from my phone so I wouldn’t even see it. I didn’t want the icon with the number of unopened emails to taunt me!
- Give people a heads up. Set up your email autoresponder to let people know you will be unavailable and when they can expect to hear back from you. Let those who might need to contact you, such as children or caregivers, understand how to do so.
- Factor in catch-up time. Don’t just come back from a detox without some time set aside to sift through the accumulated correspondence. Plan for a chunk of focused bandwidth to get caught up when you get back “online.”
- Integrate the experience. Ask yourself what you learned from the experience. Is there anything that you will now choose to do differently going forward?
How about a Digital “Diet”?
As a nutrition counselor that does not believe in “dieting”, I use that word in quotes! However, if a digital detox feels too hard for you in the moment, there are ways you can interweave tech-free hours into your daily life. Start with these more moderate ways that aim to create a better tech-life balance.
- Unplug. Commit to no work emails after a certain time every night or until you get to work in the morning.
- Put your phone away. Turn off phones during meals, when in nature, or when spending quality time with your child.
- Make your bedroom a tech-free zone. While many people use their phone as an alarm clock, inviting your phone to bed with you is a slippery slope. It’s best to invest in a simple alarm clock (I have one like this) and create a room that’s a tech-free sanctuary. Plus, devices emit a blue light that can mess with our body’s natural circadian rhythms, keeping us alert when we want to be drifting off to sleep.
- Start a family discussion. Talk about the use of electronic media and digital devices in your home. For tips on doing this, see my blog post here.
The benefits of unplugging will be personal to you, but in general, less technology use may make you happier, more creative, able to sustain focus, sleep better, increasingly relaxed and noticeably more present.
That sure sounds good to me! How about you?!