Sometimes you really do need to totally unplug to get your tech obsession and stress levels under control. However, I have one big issue with the idea of a digital detox: Just like juice cleanses often follow up five days of drinking greens with a burger binge, cutting yourself off from all technology can lead to a deep dive back into bad habits.
The truth is, it’s impossible to live a normal life these days without being somewhat connected. I often try to leave my phone at home for an hour or two, only to be admonished by someone who was frustrated that they couldn’t reach me right away. So you’re not actually learning sustainable habits from a detox, you’re just escaping the stressors for a bit and then going back to square one.
This is why I got really excited by a smart learning session on mindful technology use during my stay earlier this year at Golden Door Spa. The workshop suggested that instead of giving up your iPhone, iPad, and laptop entirely, there are many tools and strategies you can employ to reduce your attachment to them and approach using them from a more mindful place.
In other words, when living in a yurt isn’t an option, find some middle ground, like reading a brilliant novel… on your Kindle. In fact, it turns out there’s a whole movement based on these principles. It’s called “digital minimalism.” Proponents of this approach, like the guys behind the site The Minimalists, propose that we all have a choice: “We can use Twitter and Pinterest and Google+ to enrich our lives and the lives of others, to communicate and share in ways we’ve never been able to communicate before. Or we can get stuck in social media’s Bermuda Triangle, careening from Facebook to Instagram to YouTube, lost in the meaningless glow of our screens.”
To choose option A, try starting with these simple tips.
1. Stop Immediately Responding to Texts and Emails
I’ll never forget the first time I heard Dr. Phil tell someone “You teach people how to treat you,” on The Oprah Winfrey Show (RIP!). I’ve never forgotten it, and it’s something I think about a lot, especially with technology. If you respond within ten seconds to every message, people will start to expect that response time. Stop doing that, and they won’t expect you to be perpetually available.
Develop a plan to cut back to responding to texts on the hour or a certain number of times a day when possible. Depending on your job, this might be tricky, but if it is possible, one great approach is to set an out-of-office message on your email letting people know you check your messages at set times each day and won’t be responding until at least that time.
And if you’re the boss, let people know that if they hear from you after hours, that they don’t need to feel obligated to respond until the next business day.
2. Budget Social Media Time
Planning set times to check social media is even more important, and it’s way easier to do. Set a few times throughout the day to check, post, and respond to messages on all of your accounts and set a timer when you start each interval so that you don’t end up in a black hole from which there is no return (like ogling at and endless scroll of shoes, or looking at an ex’s baby pictures).
And turn off those incessant notifications! Really, how important is it to know, in real time, who LOLd at your tweet?
3. Go Analog To Begin and End Each Day
One great way to make sure you have mini unplugged moments each day is to commit to having your coffee before you touch your tech. Better yet, step outside and breathe in the morning sunshine if you live somewhere warm. Similarly, decide on a time in the evening after which you’ll be offline. That will give you time with your fam and also set you up for a better night’s sleep.
Some digital minimalists even go as far as not having internet service at home. The argument: you’ve got your smartphone when you need to be connected and you can leave everything else for the office or head to a coffee shop or library when you really need it. Not for everyone but it does make me rethink how free-flowing the Wifi is at my house. Many wireless routers like Google Wifi and Eero let you pause the internet at your house— a great idea on a Sunday, or to get through dinner in peace.
4. Pick a Standing Around Activity And Stick To It
We all use our devices the most mindlessly when we’re “standing around,” i.e. in elevators, waiting in lines, on the subway, etc. If you always have a stand-by thing to “do,” you can use that time productively instead of checking your Insta story over and over to see who else viewed your last photo. It could be as simple as a meditative breathing exercise (which will also teach you to “just be” rather than always doing). You could also carry a book or magazine with you or choose a podcast to tune into in those moments.
Have other strategies worked for you when it comes to learning to use your devices mindfully? Share your experiences in the comments below!