09 Jul How to do a digital detox
We’ve distilled our wisdom from the past four years into the top five tips we know will work for everyone. These are tried and tested strategies from our retreats and workshops, and the ones users consistently report make the most difference. But before you start there’s a bit of groundwork you need to lay:
Tell everyone you’re experimenting with how to do a digital detox
You can’t decide to disappear offscreen unilaterally without causing some consternation amongst friends and family – and possibly some annoyance from work colleagues too. Give everyone plenty of warning that you’ll be trying how to do a digital detox and set the ‘when’ way up front. It’s also a good idea to set up some auto-responders to texts and messages on your phone, if your OS allows that, as well as setting OOO messages on your email. Remind everyone that you’re experimenting with time off screen, the dates that you’ll be unavailable, and tell them what your emergency contact method is.
Set your emergency instructions
The chances are nothing will happen when you’re off screens that will need your immediate attention. But you will worry about what might be going on if you don’t spell out a clear way of getting in touch with you. Give out landline numbers and explain when you’re planning to be at each location. You might also consider getting a dumb phone that you can swap your smartphone SIM into. It’s a digital detox, not a communication detox, so if you have a very basic phone on you people can still call you – just not email or message.
How to do a digital detox #1 Ban the banners
In the war between self-control and notifications, notifications always win. If you’re trying to do a digital detox while still keeping your smartphone on you (the hardest digital detox of all), then the first thing you need to do is switch off all of your app and phone banners and notifications. There are thousands of UX experts and behavioural scientists working in Silicon Valley whose job it is to make those banners, badges and buzzers hard to ignore. They do a very good job.
Think of the analogy of trying to eat healthily but having to carry a round a bar of chocolate that periodically chirped from your pocket and reminded you it was still there. That’ll give you an idea of how hard ignoring your phone is going to be. Go to the ‘notifications’ menu in your phone settings and toggle ‘off’ all notifications for each app individually. It might be a long process to get through them all, but it’ll be well worth while.
How to do a digital detox #2 Reclaim sleep
Everyone uses their smartphone as their alarm clock. And we all know now how screens and sleep don’t mix. Even with the advent of tools like NightShift there’s no doubt that no screens at all at night help us get a more restful sleep. Eliminate your excuse for not banning phones from your bedroom overnight by investing in an analogue alarm clock (yes, you can get ones that don’t tick) and put your smartphone firmly outside your door when you turn in. If you can’t bring yourself to buy an alarm clock, then try put your smartphone outside your bedroom door with the volume turned up high – that way you’ll hear the alarm through the door. Just remember to set it to airplane mode first so you don’t get disturbed by calls.
On the retreats we run, everyone says the incredible quality of their sleep without screens was the benefit they felt the most. We know this one works, so give it a go.
How to do a digital detox #3 Untether yourself
When did we all start carrying our smartphones everywhere? And we mean everywhere…62% of us say we send and receive messages in the toilet! That’s surely a habit we can all get out of? To start building in small periods of digital detox in your day find a ‘phone home’ – a basket, box or drawer – both at work and at home where you can place your smartphone when you’re going to be staying at that place for a while. Make a point of going to your smartphone to check it rather than tethering yourself to it constantly. Carrying it around all the time is what encourages that nervous reflexive checking we all do when we pat our pockets to make sure it’s still there.
Put your smartphone back in its place of being a tool that you use, rather than a master that dictates your day. Designating a place for it to belong that’s not on your body is a great way to start.
How to do a digital detox #4 Declutter your screen
The average smartphone user is using around nine apps a day, 30 per month. But with hundreds of apps installed on our smartphone that we mostly never use, it’s no wonder we find our smartphones difficult to ignore and hard put down. Get into the habit of decluttering your phone screen once a month and deinstall apps that you don’t use, file rarely-used apps into folders named by app type, and banish time-wasting apps to the furthest screen of your device. Consider completely deleting from your phone apps that are the biggest time wasters without offering much benefit – these might be social media for example – and only check these from a laptop or desktop computer.
Decluttering works at home and in the office – and it can work on your smartphone too. Tidy smartphone screen, tidy mind.
How to do a digital detox #5 Set no-phone zones
Draw some boundaries for yourself and designate places where your phone really doesn’t belong. This will help to build in periodic screen-free spaces in your daily life. We’ve already suggested bathrooms, how about making meeting rooms at work screen free and maybe the bus or train on your daily commute? Draw mental lines in the sand so that when you step into these spaces you know that your phone shouldn’t be in your hand. Digital detox should be an ongoing, daily, process – just like healthy eating – so you don’t ever reach a crisis point and find yourself suffering from digital burnout. Your productivity and creativity will benefit too when you give yourself the headspace that comes from turning off that 24:7 noise from screens for a few minutes each day.