Specifically how and when we use our devices, and all of the distractions and notifications we get every day.
Does the idea of leaving the house without your phone stress you out?
Do you receive notifications on multiple platforms every time you get an email, text, phone call, calendar alert?
When was the last time you actually turned your devices off?
Do you constantly look for notifications, and then feel empty after you get one
Are you offended when someone doesn’t respond to you immediately?
If you are anything like me, your answers look like this:
This post covers a lot. I discuss some of the ramifications of tech, how we are in a constant state of distraction, how to discover your tech triggers, and how to go about doing a Digital Detox without shutting off everything and moving to the mountains.
If you don't have time to read it all right now, that's ok! Below are the highlights of the article with links. You can simply click on the link to go directly to the section that interests you.
Digital Overwhelm - how technology tricks us into always being "on"
Why I decided to do a Digital Detox and how I was able to reset my tech habits
Urgent vs. Important - how to tell the difference and get more done by focusing on important tasks
How to Start a Digital Detox
Step 1: Discover Your Triggers
Step 2: Turn off Notifications
Step 3: Set Digital Boundries
Step 4: Embrace the Space
Remember what is really important (closing)
With the constant barrage of social media, emails, texts, calendar invites, likes and shares, we are surrounded by incessant notifications. They seem so innocent at first. When asked if you want to receive an alert when someone messages you, likes your post, when you hit an app milestone, you automatically think YES. Thank you phone/computer/tablet/watch for helping me stay on top of what’s going on and stay connected.
Maybe you start to feel overwhelmed by all of the notifications, like you are always behind, and that you can’t focus or “get anything done.”
Have you considered that your “helpful” technology may be the culprit for this? In fact, as I sit here writing this post, everything in me wants a distraction... to take a break, get some tea, check my phone or call my mom (hi mom!). And I’m only in the second paragraph.
The fact is, we have become addicted to quick fixes, short bits of information and the dopamine hit caused by unexpected positive feedback (texts, likes, comments, even changes made to dropbox).
The constant distraction and overwhelm came to a head a month ago, when I found my attention completely shot. Hell, I was having trouble watching a movie. When I sat down to read a book I felt like I couldn’t get lost in it. I realize now that wasn’t the book’s fault, it was my inability to give my full attention to it for an extended period of time. Part of this was because I was reading on my iPad and constantly interrupted by messages and notifications, which I willingly gave my attention to.
In fact, kudos to you if you are still reading this post.
Technology asks us to always be “on” and “available.” This state puts you at the mercy of your tech, instead of in control of it. We have become slaves to our phones.
Mind you, I place ZERO judgement on when and how you use your phone or device. The reason I am addressing this is because it often feels like you have no option but to respond.
I want you to feel confident, empowered and in control of when and what you give you attention to.
Instead of willingly seeing, responding and reacting to every single notification, what if you could choose when you want to respond? What if you could train people to know that they do not have a direct line to you at any moment. What if you decided to only respond and engage when you feel like it, when you can show up fully?
If I asked you to identify the difference between Important and Urgent, what would you say? (shout out to Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of High Effective People).
Important things have a longer life span, bring you toward a bigger goal, and often have a bigger payoff. They may take more time, focus and attention, but are very fulfilling.
Urgent things are loud, fiery, exciting and stressful. They demand immediate attention and quick action. They burn out quickly and often leave you feeling busy and frazzled with little payoff.
Imagine you are cooking and your smoke alarm goes off while searing your food. While there is no real danger, you may panic, run around the house opening windows, fanning the smoke alarm, or unplugging it. Unfortunately, in the frantic process, you have lost track of the important task at hand - cooking your dinner. In the chaos, you likely forgot about your food and overcooked it. You see, the urgency takes you away from the primary task, and distracts you from your ultimate goal or outcome.
When I think of the two, I see that Important things are not always Urgent, and Urgent things are often not Important (even though they seem to be). Like the squeaky wheel, urgent things are loud and seem important in the moment. Therefore we often become a “slave” to the urgency in life and lose traction on the important things.
This way of reactive living leaves us spending our days in a busy, chaotic state. Constantly checking/deleting emails, responding to messages and “fires” and never feeling that we actually get any solid work done.
As a self-proclaimed Instagram junkie and email deleter, I decided to start detoxing my life from all of the digital urgencies. This post is not about cutting out technology. It is about gaining your footing in the digital world, using your time and attention intentionally and choosing when you receive and respond to notifications. You will gain confidence in your ability to manage your mind and manage your time.
After a few weeks of consciously cutting down my digital exposure, I definitely noticed a shift.
I am more focused when I need to do single tasks
I spend less time multi-tasking
I have reduced my urge to check my phone constantly
I actually choose to spend more time away from my phone
I do not respond as quickly to… anything
Wanna know what I did?
To get myself motivated and prepared for this, I bought a cute little book called Off - Your Digital Detox for a Better Life.
You can read this book in like 30 minutes (if you stay focused) 😜.
There’s nothing revolutionary in this book, but it is nice to have everything put together in one place.
Note, this post is not about the book, but I did take some tips from it.
Look at what “urgent” things come up and distract you from your day. Once you define these, you will become more aware of when they pop up (literally) and how you react. If you set a plan for the day and “chunk” your time, you will be less likely to respond to random urgent items. Instead, you can choose to look at “urgent” tasks after you have completed the more important and focused task chunks.
Scrolling through Instagram / looking at likes on posts
Checking text messages
Phone calls (especially while in the middle of something)
Checking and deleting email (which, is mostly junk. I unsubscribed to many accounts last month)
Clicking on any app with a red notification circle
The goal here is not to use will power to resist these triggers. That will be very difficult and may not have the desired effect. You want to shift your habits in your digital world, and decondition the behavior of checking.
Let me just say this… LIFE. CHANGER. Did you know you can turn off notifications on your phone, computer, watch and tablet? Decide what is not necessary and simply turn it off. I went ALL IN - it was the right move for me. You may think you “need to know” when an email comes in, but trust me, you don’t. Each time we get distracted by a notification (especially if we respond) it can take up to 23 minutes to get back into the flow of your important project (source).
For Mac users, the term “my phone/computer is blowing up” feels accurate. 💣 I use a Mac, iPad and iPhone, which are all connected and have many notifications.
For these devices you have 3 (yes THREE) types of notifications:
On screen banner
Red circle on app (to tell you the number of unread emails/comments, etc)
If you aren’t ready to completely shut off notifications, consider shutting down one or two of them to give yourself more peace of mind.
Drop box (All)
Phone Calls (Sounds, Red Circle)
Text Messages (All - I know WTF am I doing?!!)
Phone calls (Red circle)
Other Apps (All)
Now when I look at my phone, I NEVER see a red circle with a number in it. I have to say, this has been the biggest relief. You know how we talked about spring cleaning and clutter last week? Well, having a bunch of unread emails, texts and voice mails ANNOUNCED to me at all times is exhausting. I now feel a sigh of relief every time I look at my phone home screen. It's clean!
If I want to know if someone texted me back, I check. This is now on MY TERMS, not my phone's. Psychologically, it is very difficult to resist a “new” notification, I’d rather skip it all together.
I also cleaned up my phone home screen. I put all social apps (and email) on the second screen, and only kept essentials on the home screen. When it’s not the first thing you see, it is easier to not check immediately (think email, Instagram, Facebook, etc).
While it may seem counter-intuitive to turn off notifications (how will I know when someone needs me, will I forget to respond to people?!!!), it's not. You will get more work completed in less time. You will have more time to get back to people, and you will do so with focused attention instead of a frantic, knee-jerk reaction. Win-Win.
Your digital boundaries should address how you will and will not interact with your devices, social media, email, notifications, etc. Decide what works for (and appeals) to you and set some gentle guidelines. I say gentle because this is about changing how you feel and interact with your digital world, not about restriction and resistance.
No checking email first thing in the morning.
No checking phone for the first hour of the day (I have been leading an Instagram Live Meditation each morning around 7 AM MST, but I don’t indulge in scrolling before or after).
Leave phone at home when going on walks.
Put phone down when having a conversation.
Don’t eat and Instagram. This is a work in progress. I am still eating while watching a TV show… so I was able to eliminate ONE device from meal time.
Sunday Social Free Day! I decided I wanted to spend less time with my devices on Sundays. I mostly avoid checking or posting to Instagram, I keep my computer closed most of the day, and I try to do more physical activities. If you text me on Sunday, it may be a while before I respond (if I do at all)
Checking Email: check emails only during designated email time (I sit down every other hour to do email and I don’t check it constantly in between).
Checking Phone: Do chunks of work before checking phone (honestly, it’s like checking my phone is my reward for getting work done).
Get Serious: When you need to hammer out work, leave your phone in other room or a backpack to avoid temptation and distraction.
Pause Before Reaching: When you feel the urge to grab your phone/device, take a moment to PAUSE. Ask yourself why you want to check your device, and what you are seeking. Are you worried, anxious, frustrated? We buffer emotions with our devices in the same way we would with food or alcohol. Break the habit by pausing and checking in with yourself.
Turn on Night Shift mode on computer and phone. This helps to help protect your eyes against blue light, which can disrupt melatonin levels (thus sleep).
Close computer or shut it down by 7 PM and be done working for the night. Oddly, this has been quite difficult with longer days. But having a set "closing time" is important, especially when working from home.
Charge phone outside of bedroom. This is one of my favorite new "rules." It keeps my from random scrolling before bed and first thing in the morning. I often forget about my phone when I wake up, so I start my day intentionally.
Relax! Listen, you are doing self-improvement and breaking some very addictive habits. You don’t have to be a hard-ass, give yourself compassion and time to make the adjustments.
Your digital world can be helpful in life, but it can also be a distraction…A distraction from your feelings, your in-person friends/family/pets, and a distraction from what you want/value/enjoy in life.
When you reduce your excessive exposure to the digital world, you are left with quite a bit of space.
What do you do with it?
Don’t fret! You can embrace this space.
Since you aren’t being bombarded with frantic, urgent requests, you may want to try another activity.
Read a book: If you read on your iPad, make sure all notifications are off (or turn it on Airplane mode). A physical book is a great way to spend your time and attention. Trust me, it is much more enjoyable when you aren’t constantly interrupted by a ding or a ring.
Go on a walk: Take a walk and be present with nature. Listen to the birds, enjoy the scenery and look far away to help your eyes recover from screen time. No headphones, no phone calls, not emailing and walking. Just be outside.
Take a nap: I’m a huge proponent of naps! Yet, with so many digital “down time” options, we often feel exhausted but stay awake and scroll, delete emails, or watch TV. Next time you feel tired, try leaving your devices outside of your room, putting on an eye mask and getting some shut eye.
Stare at the wall: That’s right, you don’t always have to be “doing” to get things done. As James Wedmore says, “The Work is in the Rest.” Allow yourself space and time to just be. Stare at a wall, watch your pet sleep, let your mind wander. This is a beautiful way to restore energy and boost creativity.
Make a list of what is important: We often choose to “work” on urgent tasks instead of important ones because they are easier and offer a “quick fix.” The other reason is lack of clarity about what is actually important… in life, in work, in our days and hours. I encourage you to decide what important tasks you want to prioritize each day and week and work from there. When something urgent comes up, ask “Does this move me toward my important goal?” and “Can this wait?” Notice the answers.
Remember, this is not just about work or “getting things done.” No, this is about your life! When I say Important Things, I mean everything from your health, to your relationships, to down time and self-care. I am taking about knowing who you are, what you value, what you will tolerate (or not) and what you stand for. It is important for you to know what is important to you.
When you build that sense of self and confidence, it will become easier to not get buried and distracted by life’s urgencies.
Here’s a secret, there will always be something urgent that comes up. No amount of doing will ever squander these things, it’s part of life. But you do have a choice and the power to respond differently. You can have time for quality work, play, and rest each day. You will likely notice that you are able to do more when you cut out the distractions because focused work is where it’s at!
I am still on this digital detox path and moving toward more space every day. Won’t you join me for a digital detox week? We will go through this process together and create more space, more confidence and more joy in our day to day lives.
Until next week,