The end of the year is when our lives are the busiest. Major holidays, year-end work deadlines, and forgotten New Year’s resolutions all come to the foreground of our daily lives. Life becomes more chaotic. With all of the stress around us this time of year, most of us turn inward and use our phones, tablets, and laptops to take our minds off the tasks at hand. What if you could turn your mind back on and be happier, less stressed, and more productive? Answer: digital detox.
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My digital background
The earliest I remember using technology to avoid stress, and let’s be truthful – real life in general, was when I was a freshman in college. In 2009, I possessed no smartphone, but I did have an old, handed-down laptop. While at a turtle’s pace, I was still able to distract myself from homework, exams, and roommates.
I spent hours playing Plants vs. Zombies (the original PC version, that’s how cool I am – ha!) and reading downloaded books on my computer. While I never missed an assignment or a test, I quickly realized I wasn’t living up to my true ability. But playing on the computer was much better than facing real life.
As the semesters flew by, my habits changed. I dated a new guy (my now husband), I found a degree field that I loved (art history), and I had a really great and studious roommate. I used my computer less to goof off and more to do actual coursework – still no smartphone, mind you. Pushing myself, I finished my degree a semester early and found a job as a store manager in a new city. *Note: I’ve never had a job in my degree field.
When I was finally out on my own, I bought myself a smartphone. It was shiny, new, and I was obsessed. Games and apps were downloaded. Immediately I adopted the mindset of downtime = phone time.
For years, our digital obsessed lives continued. My husband and his iPad. Me and my phone. It wasn’t until 2017 when we found minimalism that we did our first digital detox.
You’re right, I did say “first” digital detox. That’s because it is so easy to slide back into old habits. It becomes especially easy when life is stressful and you don’t have any more productive habits to fill that “void”.
What’s a digital detox?
A digital detox is when you relieve yourself from the constant pull technology has on your everyday life.
Like I talked about in my post Digital Minimalism, you’ll learn how to put the screen away and focus on what’s important in life.
During this 30 day Digital Detox, you’ll learn how to:
– Optimize your online tasks
– Stay focused for longer
– Be a little happier overall
Let’s get to it!
Day 1 – Turn Off Notifications and Rearrange Your Home Screen
All the “bings” and “dings” need to be put to rest. Turn off all notifications you don’t need. Examples are: Facebook comments/like, Twitter, Instagram, Gmail, Weather Channel, etc.
Of course, keep the notifications on for your true phone functions and emergency alerts.
Day 1 is also a great day to rearrange and reorganize your apps. Whenever you unlock your phone (home screen) remove any “time suck” apps (Facebook, Instagram, etc) so you can’t easily get to it. Moving it to the next screen over or into a group will do the trick.
Day 2 – Install Usage Tracking App
While it may sound contradictory to install another app while you’re going through a digital detox, I promise this one will help you out.
Install an app like Quality Time. iOS and some Android devices already have something similar already installed. You can check under your settings to see if it has something called “app usage”.
I want you to view how much you’re using your phone. This includes unlocking your phone, how many times each app is opened and how long you spend in each app.
Day 3 – Organize, Unsubscribe, and Delete Emails
You love a good sale at your favorite store, but you don’t necessarily like having 129129489 emails in your Gmail inbox. Do yourself a favor and unsubscribe from all those marketing emails. If you love a store and all their promos, check their subscription options to see if you can opt for less frequent emails.
Go through your email inbox and delete all the emails you no longer need. Then create folders for the emails you do need to keep. Examples would be: Home, Medical, Finance, Shopping, Kids, Work, etc. Set a timer for 15 minutes during your lunch break and get this done.
Make it a priority to keep that inbox clean. Once you unsubscribe from marketing emails, you will find that your inbox is no longer constantly flooded. The less time you spend looking for something, the less time you spend on your phone or tablet.
Day 4 – Opt to Reflect
Out of boredom, you reach for your phone. Instead of using screen time as a way to get instant gratification, try reflecting on your day. What are you thankful for? If you could tell three people “thank you for all that you do”, who would it be (and then tell them!)? Ask yourself simple questions to make yourself grateful and thankful. Write them down in a journal if you so choose. This is a practice of delayed gratification that can bring you happiness within yourself (much like meditation can) and not from a screen.
This is my favorite gratitude journal.
Day 5 – Set a Timer
With most of your notifications turned off, you’re likely spending a little less time in front of your screen. But, you still feel the pull of all those apps and the feeling you get when you see all those notifications when you open them. Set a timer so you keep your “app checking” in line. Start with an easy 15 minutes. As the digital detox challenge progresses, see if you can shorten the time even further.
Day 6 – No Screens in Bed
According to the Sleep Foundation, ” The blue light that’s emitted from these screens can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, increase alertness, and reset the body’s internal clock (or circadian rhythm) to a later schedule.”
Plug your charger in across the room (even if your phone/tablet has to lay on the floor – gasp!). If you use it as an alarm clock, make sure the volume on your alarm is up louder than it normally would be. This also includes your TV – so turn off the TV before you get into bed or remove the TV from your bedroom all together.
Day 7 – Delete Your Most Used “Time Suck” Apps
On Day 7, this final day, open up your activity tracking app. See what apps you used the most. Go through and delete the apps you used the most.
Of course, if you use email to talk to your grandma or any other app that is important to your daily life and work, of course leave it there. I’m specifically referring to the apps that suck time out of your day – Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc. All of these apps have a web browser version. This will ultimately stop your “trigger finger” when you’re bored and just want to be distracted.
Dan and I found that when we deleted Facebook from our phones, we stopped gravitating to our phones all together. We knew that time suck wasn’t even there.
Digital Detox Days 8-30: Maintenance
While this challenge is technically only 7 days of “actively” changing your habits, it takes a full 30 days to fully detox.
Days 8-30 are full of implementing what you did in days 1-7. As the days go on, you’ll find that you are less and less drawn to your phone or tablet.
If you find that you’re struggling to use your phone less during breaks and lunches at work, try bringing a book to read or journaling (see Day 4).
More time will open up during your days and evenings to spend doing what you love. Hobbies and family time will come back to the forefront of your life. You might find your passion! But most certainly you’ll be happier spending time off-screen than being sucked into social media.