In June I stepped away from the digital world for thirty days. I did a digital detox where I cut out social media, drastically reduced streaming activities (except music) and filled my time with analog activities.
Among other reasons, my digital detox is a big part of why I haven’t been writing here as much as I had in the past. I took a break from all things digital to get some clarity about important life “stuff” and to get my creative groove back.
Why did I go on a Digital Detox?
This is probably my second or third attempt at “detox.” I’ve tried all the cutesy techniques you read about in articles:
- Turning off notifications
- Restricting the number of people I follow
- Putting my phone in a drawer
Those techniques would work for a few days but I would always find myself sliding back into bad habits.
At the same times I was frustrated by my lack of writing (when I started this blog I wrote 2-3 times a week) and my recently developed inability to read an entire book.
And then I stumbled upon Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism book which was critical to setting the ground rules and sticking to my digital detox. Ironically I read a preview of the book on my Kindle, quickly bought the book and finished it in less than a week.
The irony of reading a book about digital minimalism on a digital device like the Kindle is not lost on me – more thoughts on that at the end of this post.
Digital technology is everywhere and for many of us its necessary to do our jobs. I couldn’t hibernate on a remote mountain for a month so I had to figure out a way I could keep my job and try digital minimalism.
To get started, I set some basic rules (keep in mind these are rules for my life, any rules you set should fit your life):
- For 30 days absolutely no use of the following: Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram, any social media or reading news online
- For 30 days extremely limited use of the following:
- LinkedIn (have to use for work)
- The internet – only used for research purposes – no more online news, no more trashy celebrity news, no more mindless shopping
- Email – limit work email to checking on a regular basis instead of my typical Pavlovian response when an email hits my inbox.
- The following digital tools were always okay:
- Reminders app on my phone – how else would I get my grocery shopping done?
- Texting – using do not disturb during “deep work” more on that later
- 10% Happier – my meditation app
- Spotify – I love music and it must be in my life
- My kindle was OK in airplane mode – i.e. no mindless browsing of the Amazon book store
But more important than setting rules was figuring out how I could fill the time now that I wasn’t picking up my phone every 5 minutes. According to Cal Newport:
“For this process to succeed, you must also spend this period trying to rediscover what’s important to you and what you enjoy outside the world of the always-on, shiny digital.”
Newport, Cal. Digital Minimalism (p. 71). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
How I Spent My Free Time
Now that I was restricting my use of digital technology I had a hard time figuring out what to do. It is painful for me to read that sentence because I’m embarrassed by how much free time I spent mindlessly scrolling on my phone or mindlessly streaming the latest Netflix show. Of course, I never looked at any of my behavior as mindless I had many euphemistic phrases:
“Staying up to date on the latest news”
“Staying in touch with friends”
“I might miss out on something…”
Re-Discovering Books and Training A Puppy
I did not have any life -changing, “Paul on the road to Damascus” moments during my digital detox but I did experience some small improvements. I rediscovered my attention span, trained our puppy (turns out you can’t do that while listening to a podcast) and calmed down a bit.
Here’s how I filled my time:
- Reading actual newspapers – readings news that’s been researched, vetted and is somewhat impartial is a much calmer experience than reading hot takes on breaking news.
- Reading actual books – I am one of those people who buy more books than I have time to read – it turns out I found that time during my digital detox.
Other times, I just listened to music. Like actually sat there and listened to an entire album which I haven’t done in ages. Have you ever listened to The Beatles White Album entirely? It’s a little trippy.
So that was a little bit on how I filled the small gaps in my schedule, but what about the big gaps? In my rules I discussed how I was going to limit my streaming, so what did I do at night?
So, what else did I do besides read? I dedicated time to training our six -month- old puppy, Duke.
First some background, my husband and I bought Duke at Christmas (do not ever buy a dog at Christmas) and I promptly came down with the flu and the cold weather, paired with Duke’s very high energy (he’s a Brittany) made for a stressful situation at our house.
By May, we were both at our breaking point with Duke but we resolved to make this work. So we got a trainer and I took the lead in working with our little man Duke. By July (end of my digital detox) Duke had gone from D (destroying shoes, couches, pillows, ignoring us) to a solid B.
I don’t think its a coincidence that after 30 days of digital detox and working with a trainer that I can play fetch with my dog off-leash, that he is now crate trained and that he can stare at a treat on his paw without eating it. Walking on a leash is still a struggle but he’ll get there soon.
And in between all that reading and dog training, I spent a lot of time meditating. The meditation thing might be a little new age for some but I can’t overstate the benefits of just sitting by yourself for a few minutes and taking some deep breaths. It helped me to reflect on my day, calm the inner critic and concentrate better at work and home.
By not filling every minute with social media, streaming or some useless household chore I had time to be bored. And when I was bored I came up with some amazing ideas for books and businesses I want to start.
That space in my head also gave me some much-needed perspective on why I turn to my phone. Sometimes it’s because I’m bored or having a bad case of FOMO or because I want to numb my brain. Once I realized that it became a lot easier to stop myself from going to easy distractions.
After those 30 days I realized how much I still love technology and all it can do for us. I’m writing this on an app that syncs across multiple devices while listening to music from a streaming service that gives me access to 30 million songs.
So yea, I love technology and I can’t imagine a world without it.
The important piece is figuring out how I can adapt technology without it ruling my life.
And that thought is what I used to develop my new rules for technology. The “rules” aren’t about what I’m supposed to do they are about how I want to use technology.
I plan to use digital technology within the following guidelines:
- To enhance my life – exposure to new music, using an app to read a book on multiple devices throughout my day, connecting with new people and friends
- To make my life easier – adding groceries to my reminder list with my voice, blue tooth streaming in my car or sourcing home improvement ideas on platforms like Reddit or YouTube
- With intent – if I get the itch to check a social media site, I’ll pause and ask myself why I’m doing that? Is it for the right reasons? Will I use it to enhance my life? Connect with others? Read silly memes? None of those are bad reasons, I just have to be clear about intentions.
Number three on that list is most important to me. What are my intentions? How is technology going to enhance my life? What purpose will it serve in my life?
So, no I will not swear off technology but I will work to make sure that our wonderful digital tools serve me and not vice versa.
P.S. I expect to write here more frequently going forward if you’re reading this thank you for sticking with me.