How a Digital Detox Could Benefit You

Every Sunday morning, my phone vibrates and pops up a notification to show me how much “screen time” I’ve spent on my phone over the past week. Every week I think with some dismay, “that can’t be right.” But then when I think about how much time I’ve also spent in front of a laptop or other devices, I realize that my screen time each day is, in fact, much higher than the amount my phone already shocked me with.

If you’ve watched the recent Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, or read any of the articles that have accompanied it about the intentional brain-based design of devices – and social media in particular – to use algorithms to keep you coming back, you may be harboring a desire to throw out all your devices and live off the grid for the rest of your life. While this may be unrealistic for the majority of us, digital detoxes and digital fasting are options we could all benefit from.

Digital Detox is a planned disruption to your usual patterns. This could be for a day, a weekend, or even a week or more. Blake Snow, author of Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting, says that his family spends an entire week – once in the spring and once in the fall – with no electronic devices. This forces them to connect with each other – and with friends and family – in new ways, which builds new habits they incorporate into the rest of their year. A few years ago, a scientific study in which 35 CEOs and entrepreneurs were cut off from their devices for four days was covered by Fast Company in a piece titled What Really Happens To Your Brain And Body During A Digital Detox, which is well worth a read.

Digital Fasting is an ongoing practice to set boundaries in your life. This might mean setting certain hours for using devices, and then closing them down and putting them away at the end of that time. Tchiki Davis, author of Outsmart Your Smartphone: Conscious Tech Habits for Finding Happiness, Balance, and Connection IRL, suggests using the rule of thirds: “Divide your life into thirds—8 hours for work, 8 hours for sleep, and 8 hours free. Working more does not actually make us more productive. Working smart and keeping time free allows our minds to wander in ways that make the hours we do work more effective… So if you let your smartphone be your work ball-and-chain, you’re not doing yourself any favors when it comes to productivity.”

Both can help you to be more present to what you’re doing and to the people in your life – family, friends, and work colleagues.

What are some practical steps you can take towards a digital detox or digital fasting this week? 

This Week’s Tips:

  1. Always ask “why” when you pull out your phone. Is this something you need to do right away, or can it wait? If you think you’ll forget, write a reminder on a notepad so it’s not occupying your mind in the meantime.
  2. Remove distractions. Change the settings on your devices to remove pop-up notifications on anything that isn’t urgent. Blake Snow discusses the “four burners theory” – your four burners are family, friends, health, and work. He suggest that anything not essential to your four burners should be removed, meaning “no alerts, beeps, buzzes, or notifications of any kind.”
  3. Start small.Try a 60 minute “sprint” of engaging in a project with all devices and screens away or turned off. Then try to implement these sprints on a recurring basis. If your work is on a computer, shut off all notifications and – if possible – turn off your internet access as you work (“Airplane mode” isn’t just for airplanes!).
  4. Close all devices two hours before bed. Sleep researchers say that looking at a blue light, which is produced by smartphone and tablet screens, sets off brain receptors that are designed to keep us awake and interferes with circadian sleep patterns. Research has found that if people use a tablet for up to two hours before bed, it takes an extra hour to fall asleep.
  5. Make plans to fast or detox. This doesn’t just mean decide when you’re going to do it; it also means plan some fun and engaging things to do while you’re away from your devices so you’re less tempted to break the fast early. Train your mind with rewards that outweigh what you get from looking at a screen.

Try any or all of these this week, and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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