Have you looked up from your computer and realized you’ve been online for hours and accomplished nothing? But you had been following the scent of an ever changing interest from one website to another. Or catching up on super cheery posts and photos of your Facebook friends. Or responding to emails.
I have. And a few weeks ago I felt like my digital life had taken over. I realized I had a lot of activity, but little substance to show for it. It felt like I was addicted or had developed techno-ADD. My attention span was the size of gnat and I often felt tense. I just wanted to shut down and unplug.
Problem is my work requires being online with a computer. I couldn’t simply shut down. But if I couldn’t cut my self off completely, what could I do?
I thought about the detoxes I do for health every Spring and Fall. Where I eat simply and cleanly for a period of time to rest my body and reset my appetites. Why not apply this concept to my digital life?
So I decided to do a digital detox. For one week, I would withdraw from social media and limit my online time to what what essential. When I used my laptop or went online, I would be mindful.
It took a little preparation to set up this digital detox and here’s what I did:
- Notified my Facebook friends that I’d be offline for awhile. I really wanted to deactivate my Facebook account for the week but I can’t without affecting the Facebook pages I run. So I made a very public commitment to make myself be accountable.
- Set up an out of office notification on my emails that told people I would check email and respond only 2-3 times per day.
- Downloaded two apps called Freedom and Anti-Social. Freedom shuts down your internet connection for however many minutes you want. It’s too easy to have a question while writing, jump onto the interwebs to seek an answer and lose an hour following some trail. I am using Freedom as I write this. Anti-Social shuts down your access to social sites like Facebook. I use Anti-Social when I need to do research but don’t want the distraction of social sites. I actually find Freedom more useful for my purposes.
- Set up blocking on my Android phone. Blocking allow you to turn off all notifications without shutting the phone down. When it’s active, the phone does not make any noise or blink for every incoming call or text or app notification. I have it set up to automatically block between 9pm and 8am. But at any time, I can activate full blocking.
- Cleaned up my email. I had over 2000 emails sitting in my inbox. Before I started the detox, I deleted, archived and labeled all my emails. I also set up some rules and automation in Gmail to make future work easier. I got this idea from Leo Baubauta’s great post on email habits.
I also made commitments. I wanted to shift my attention away from the addictive digital world to the tangible real world. Here’s what I committed to do:
- Talk with people rather than text or email. I value connection and love conversations where I can see the sparkle in someone’s eyes. A friend’s gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice tell as big a part of the story as her words. In person, I can hear the laughter overlaid on words that I might have bristled at had they been in an email or text.
- Create rather than consume. I love to learn. But it’s too easy to keep learning and learning and postpone sharing what I’ve learned.
- Get outside and move. Being around nature is the best detox I know. So is moving my body whether on a walk or a yoga class or skiing.
- Read engaging books. Reading an intriguing novel or a provoking work of non-fiction takes your full attention. Very different than skimming level of attention it takes to read a bullet point online article.
Life is already calmer. Ah.