More and more things are moving from paper to digital. Bank statements can be viewed online, calendar apps make it easier to track your schedule, and contacting someone is just a few taps away. Information is so easy to access, but the convenience can be an issue. Sometimes we spend so much time in front of a screen that a digital detox is nescessary.
A quick Google search for “digital detox” brings up the following definition:
a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world.google.com
In many of the articles that cover doing a digital detox will suggest just cutting your screen time. While that is obviously the easiest way to spend less time in front of a device, it’s not always doable if your work involves being in front of a computer. Besides, a detox usually involves cleansing, not just cutting things off.
If all you do is cut your time in front of a screen temporarily and do nothing about the distractions, you’ll be tempted to go right back to your old habits. Instead of simply cutting your screen time, this digital detox will combine mindfulness techniques to bring more meaning behind your actions. It will help you remove distractions and make better use of your time.
Part One: Clean
“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”Confucius
I really like this quote because it sends two messages. First, the little things do matter and can help you tackle a bigger project. Second, the small things can pile up into a giant mountain. For this digital detox, we’re going to focus on the smaller things first before moving onto the big stuff.
1. Clean up your desktop.
There are studies that the state of your room can impact the state of your mind. A messy desktop can distract you in the same way that a cluttered room can overstimulate your mind. Plus, knowing that your documents are organized will give you peace of mind.
2. Sort your apps.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I go on a downloading spree and get a bunch of free apps that I think I’ll use. This creates pages of apps with random locations that I have to memorize. Having some sort of system on your phone helps you locate things more quickly and feel less frustrated when it comes time to look for an app.
3. Get rid of unused and unwanted programs and apps.
After sorting your apps, you should have an idea of what’s on your phone and computer. Now is a good time to get rid of apps you don’t need or no longer use. You can do the same on your computer by running down the programs list. Here’s a guide if you use Windows, and here is one for Mac users.
Part Two: The Digital Detox
Part one was all about putting everything in order and getting rid of the things that were obvious interruptions. Now we’re going to continue finding the hidden distractions and getting rid of them.
1. Adjust your notifications.
By this point, you’ve determined what apps and programs you think you need. You should probably have a good idea of which ones are important and which ones are just for fun. Go to your app settings and adjust your notifications to have the less important apps send less notifications. You probably don’t need Candy Crush to notify you right away like you do an email or text.
2. Commit to your do not disturb button.
If you aren’t already using the do not disturb function on your phone, do it now. You can set your phone to stop buzzing with notification within a certain time frame. This can be at night during the hours you want to sleep or during the day while you’re at school or work. Whatever time frame you choose, commit to it. This is the time you don’t want to be disturbed. If you are having trouble falling asleep, don’t reach for your phone. If you’re trying to study, move your phone further away from you.
Don’t worry about emergencies. Depending on what phone you have, you can set it so your phone will still ring or buzz on do not disturb mode if it’s a call or text from specific people. Be honest with yourself here and choose the appropriate settings. If you know 99% of texts aren’t emergencies but 99% of calls are, set your notifications accordingly.
3. Get rid of things that bring you down.
I’m not talking about apps or programs here. We already did that. I’m talking about pictures, videos, and people. Is there a Facebook group that is full of nothing but drama? Maybe there is an Instagrammer whose page only makes you feel insecure. Are there pictures and videos from a past relationship on your phone that you should probably let go of?
Things that foster negativity should have no place in our lives, whether it’s physical or, in this case, digital. They not only serve as a distraction; they are also detrimental to our mental health. If you’re finding that you’re looking at a feed and only feeling insecure or unfavorable after, it might be time to unfriend or block. If you feel like that isn’t an option because the person is a family member or friend, you can unfollow their feed or check to see if there is a way to see less of their posts.
4. Create good habits with your devices.
Social media and playing games on your phone is not a bad thing. These activities can give back to you in the form of happiness or stress relief. However, like everything else, it’s all about moderation. The digital world can be a way to escape our responsibilities in the physical world, but we can’t avoid it forever. It’s important to create balance.
Here are a few things you can do to find that balance:
- Use your fun apps as a reward for getting things done. This can be a 10 minute break after doing some solid work for the past hour or a couple hours of “me time” after a day’s work.
- Keep your social media tabs and apps closed while working. If your work does involve social media, try not to do anything that’s not related to your work, like scrolling through a feed or posting personal updates.
- Put your phone away when you’re with friends or family. There’s a time and place for everything.
- Create a set time for things like checking and responding to email.
- Create no-tech zones, like your bedroom or the bathroom.
5. Bring back the paper.
Even though apps and programs are meant to be convenient and make work easier, sometimes good old pen and paper works best. Whether or not paper is better depends on you, but it’s best to have a method that works than trying to force yourself into one that just isn’t going to do it.
Paper books might hold your attention more than eBooks. A paper planner can just be effective as an app. Writing out flashcards might help you retain more information than an app. It might take some time testing out what works for you, but knowing yourself is an amazing strength to have. Understanding how your mind works is a skill you can use to your benefit anywhere.
Part Three: Reflect
This isn’t something you can do right away because you need to see how the detox helped or didn’t help. It might seem silly, but this is where mindfulness kicks in. It’s a good idea to reflect on how effective the detox is and create a heightened sense of awareness, understanding, and appreciation of these everyday tasks. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Which apps or programs that I deleted are ones I find myself looking for? Do I need them because they made me more productive, or were they just something fun to pass the time?
- Did deleting a certain app actually make me less productive?
- Am I getting something out of the apps and programs I decided to keep? (Think increased productivity, happiness, knowledge, etc.)
Self-reflection is a big part of mindfulness, and I included it in this digital detox because our time is valuable. They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If we constantly have to do a digital detox, then something isn’t working. Adding a bit of mindfulness will give you insight on how to create habits that will last a lifetime.