When’s the last time you wrote someone a letter, or memorized a phone number? Or set an alarm clock before turning off the lights to a completely dark room with no screens around?
It’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t have so much technology at our fingertips, keeping us constantly connected to people and information. Smartphones have undeniably simplified and even improved certain aspects of our lives. But let’s be honest: always being accessible is exhausting. Think about how many avenues people can contact you on your phone. They can call, text, email, DM, comment – and every one creates a notification that requests your attention.
Having easy access to news, apps and entertainment isn’t always a good thing. Regularly monitoring the news, especially nowadays, can make you more anxious and stressed than informed. Relying on our phones for entertainment creates missed opportunities for going outside, learning something new and observing the world before us.
I love being connected to my friends and family even when we’re thousands of miles apart, but sometimes I need to take a step away from my phone to spend dedicated time with myself and my surroundings. When I do, I feel so much more present in the moment. I notice the patterns of bubbles in my morning matcha. I listen to the faint snore of my sweet Tilly in the other room. Giving myself a digital break makes me feel so much more mindful, even when I do choose to be on my devices.
If you’re considering a digital detox, from one hour to one month, my suggestion is to start small and go from there. Here are some ways that can help you incorporate less screens and a little more balance to your life:
Before Starting: Understand Your Habits
Before you begin a digital detox, take time to notice just how dependent you are on devices. Chances are you don’t realize how often you pick up your phone, absent-mindedly scroll through social and news feeds, or rely on technology to get through your day-to-day.
Without setting any limits just yet, see if you can identify what triggers your impulse to unlock your phone or sit at your computer. Is it to do work? Is it because there’s a lull in conversation? Notice how and why you interact with your devices to understand what it would take to live your life without them.
You may want to consider finding alternatives to help you during your digital detox, or decide what you would still like to allow yourself access to, like navigation tools or your favorite fitness app. You’re allowed to make your detox yours – it’s ultimately meant to help you create a better, more mindful relationship with your devices.
Start Slow By Limiting Access
Instead of quitting cold turkey, consider easing into your detox by limiting your digital access. It could be by disabling certain apps, putting away certain devices, or simply establishing a device-free time. This list isn’t exhaustive, but here are some tools and methods to help curb your digital use:
Use your phone’s built-in limits
A lot of smartphones provide time limit settings that you can customize to suit your needs. For iPhones, you can go into Screen Time settings to adjust time limits for certain or all apps, as well as designate downtime hours where only the apps that you choose to allow and phone calls are available. You can also limit who can contact you during downtime hours. Instagram also has its own time limit settings you can set within the app.
Another way to help limit the appeal of your phone is by changing its display from full color to grayscale. It makes such a huge difference!
Create space between you and devices
I have heard so many people say they feel naked when they forget their phone at home. We are so used to being constantly connected that we get anxious when we’re not, fearing that something bad might happen in the hours we’re away from our phone. But the reality is that this is a recent luxury. It feels like forever ago, but even I remember when landlines and answering machines were the norm.
A great goal is to start getting comfortable with not always having your phone. Consider leaving your phone at your desk when you go into meetings, if possible. When you’re out for drinks or dinner, keep your phone in your purse or bag instead of on the table. If TV is a big challenge for you, consider putting away the remote so that you have to actively get up to turn it on and change channels.
You can also create device-free safe space, like a room in your house that you can escape to without having any temptations around. I think a big part of why I and many other people enjoy going to fitness classes is that the rooms are typically device-free zones. You are capable of creating that sanctuary within your own home.
Establish a device-free time
Designate parts of your day as device-free. Maybe it’s a time period, such as 8pm-8am. Or maybe it’s during a certain activity, like exercising or eating meals. Outside of those device-free times, try limiting yourself to one screen at a time. I am totally guilty of scrolling through Instagram while half-watching something on Netflix. By choosing one screen at a time, you’re more intentional with it.
Detox Yourself From Devices
You may feel like you’ve found a way to reset your habits just by limiting your use or access to digital devices. If you’re really interested in a full detox, here are some tips to help you succeed at it:
Set up auto-responses
Create a vacation/OOO message for your email and other messaging platforms to let people know that you are taking time off. If necessary, offer them an alternative way to reach you in the case of an emergency.
Sign out or delete apps
Resist temptation by signing out of apps or deleting them altogether for the duration of a digital detox. We are creatures of habit, so chances are you might absent-mindedly open the apps you’re used to visiting during idle moments. Seeing a login screen will be a friendly reminder to spend your time elsewhere!
Notifications can be SO distracting in your everyday life. I am pro-turning off as many notifications as possible, during and outside of a detox. I know it can feel gratifying to get a ping every time someone engages with your Instagram post, but our ‘addiction to likes’ can ultimately be detrimental to our self-esteem.
Just remember that push notifications aren’t there to keep you updated on the latest news – they’re a business tactic to increase app engagement. Turn off that noise!
Let your loved ones know
If you’re planning to step away from your phone or other methods of communication, be sure to give those who you keep in regular contact with a heads up. No one wants your mom calling the police because you didn’t text her back.
Enjoy new old + new hobbies
Think about how you loved spending your time when you were younger. Did you like to paint, or ride your bike? Maybe you spent hours just sitting in your backyard, running the blades of grass between your fingers and watching the clouds move by.
A digital detox is a great time to reconnect with your childlike wonder, to enjoy the outdoors and hobbies that don’t involve a login. You can fill quiet moments with simple pleasures, like: going for a walk, writing someone a letter, working on a puzzle, reading, cooking, journaling, visiting a bookstore/library. Let this time be fully yours to explore your thoughts, your world.
Maintain Digital Mindfulness
Once you’re ready to reintegrate devices, I encourage you to think about what detox methods you used that seemed effective, and consider incorporating some of them into your daily lifestyle. Perhaps it’s as simple as signing out of your work email on your phone as soon as you leave the office, or incorporating a screen-free day once a week at home. Taking small breaks can make a big difference in your relationship with devices.
Please note that these are just suggestions for those who are interested in trying a digital detox or limiting their use and dependency on devices. If you feel like this has become a real addiction in your life, please consider undergoing a digital detox with the help of a mental health professional to get the support you need.