How to Do a Digital Detox
We know the Internet can be bad for our mental health. But how, exactly, do we stop using it? Here are some tricks to help you take meaningful breaks from technology and boost your well-being.
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"I used to work 11-hour weekdays and half-day Saturdays, and I was mentally consumed with work for much of the remainder," Blake Snow reveals in his new book, Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting.
Like my book, Outsmart Your Smartphone: Conscious Tech Habits for Finding Happiness, Balance, and Connection IRL, Log Off also offers some useful tips on how to create a better relationship with technology. More specifically, Blake credits much of his struggle with work-life balance to the alluring draw of the Internet—his smartphone in particular. But after having done a digital detox, in a variety of ways, he's now offering advice on how others can do the same.
Here are some tips from the book to help you do a digital detox.
1. Remove distractions
Blake teaches us about the four burners theory—your four burners are family, friends, health, and work. Anything that is not essential to your four burners should be removed. "That means no alerts, beeps, buzzes, or notifications of any kind, perhaps with the exception of voicemails for emergencies." But Blake notes that "most emergencies are imagined." By instituting these practices and removing distractions, we focus on what really matters and make better use of our time.
2. Don't glamorize busyness
It seems silly how proud we are of being busy. Blake notes that explanations of, "I'm so busy!" are really just our attempts to avoid making hard choices about how we live our lives. Staying busy is easier than taking time to pursue what would really make us happy. Worse yet, the Internet makes it so easy to be "busy" indefinitely. So be careful not to glamorize busyness. By doing so, you can start to think more clearly about how you are choosing to spend your time.
3. Always ask "why" when you pull out your phone
Sure, our smartphones are handy tools for finding out answers, keeping in touch with friends, or even checking the time. But often, more often than we think, we use our phones to distract, to avoid, or to ignore whatever is happening right in front of us.
"I truly believe that keeping our phones in our pockets is one of the bravest things that any of us can do," Blake says in the book. Instead of pushing down our anxiety—perhaps when we're sitting alone or just feeling alone with a group of people—we can choose not to use our phones as a security blanket. Then we remember how to be present and grateful for the moment.
4. Try using the rule of thirds
Divide your life into thirds—8 hours for work, 8 hours for sleep, and 8 hours free. Working more does not actually make us more productive. Working smart allows our minds to wander in ways that make the hours we do work more effective. In fact, research shows that for rote workers, more than 40 hours per week diminishes productivity; for creative workers, more than 20 hours per week does. So if you let your smartphone be your work ball-and-chain, you're not doing yourself any favors when it comes to productivity.
5. Periodically, fast from electronics
Yes, literally fast. Blake says that his family will spend an entire week—once in the spring and once in the fall—with no electronic devices. Having tried this technique myself last year, I can't overstate how positive the effects are from taking a tech break. Although it feels a little scary at first, an electronics fast forces you to connect with others and with yourself, which turns out to be a pretty amazing experience.
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at Berkeley, she started creating online content & programs to boost well-being—some of these have reached more than a million people. As author of Outsmart Your Smartphone, and contributor to Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis aims to share her insights on happiness & health with people all across the world. Learn more about Dr. Davis.