We are living in the digital age. Smartphones and computers surround us constantly. This is a fact of life in the 21st century. We are seeing unprecedented smartphone and computer usage and information consumption via the Internet. But at what cost? Are we losing out on something when we’re constantly glued to our devices, consuming videos, articles, music and other media? My answer is a resounding YES! I think with constant consumption we miss out on opportunities to love and be loved and to unleash our creativity. It’s time for a smartphone detox.
The idea of a digital detox is not new. Many bloggers, journalists and writers have noticed this problem and have written extensively about it. If you’re interested in further reading, I’ve provided several articles at the bottom of this one. However, many fail to talk about what to do instead of staring at your smartphone. My plan for a giant phone detox is a little bit different.
While this might sound a bit crazy, I’m using my phone time as a sort of reward for good behavior. When I spend a certain amount of time on a task, I allow myself to do something on my phone. So far, I’ve decided to spend about 25 minutes doing something before I take a “phone break”.
I believe that, personally, my smartphone addiction comes down to one basic thing: procrastination (I know, the evil “P” word). This may or may not be true for you, but I bet it likely is. You need to do something (work, laundry, dishes, write a blog post, exercise) but your brain is procrastinating. Why? Because it’s hard or it’ll take work. I’m definitely not an expert in psychology, but I think our brains typically like to take the easiest and safest path. This is usually a good survival technique, but usually isn’t so great for keeping your house clean, doing work you love and maintaining health.
This is how procrastination holds sway. Our brain tricks us constantly into taking the easy way, which often means avoiding doing difficult things and doing mindless, easy things instead. When you’re browsing Facebook, watching Netflix or playing Angry Birds, your brain kind of zones out and shuts off. This becomes habitual, as we continue to put off what we need or even want to do for mindless activities.
Don’t get me wrong, Facebook, Netflix and Angry Birds are all fun and entertaining and even informational at times. But when we procrastinate work, creativity, love, and health for autonomous entertainment, we risk a downward spiral of addiction to screens.
I’m sure we’ve all felt some of the effects: tiredness, irritability, inability to stop, the “twitch” to check social feeds, warped sense of time (we don’t realize how long we’ve been playing, watching or scrolling), lack of creativity, just to name a few.
Break Free From the Screens
So, how do we break free? I’m experimenting with a plan to reverse the procrastination. In a nutshell, instead of picking up my smartphone to avoid something, I’m going to use the smartphone as a reward for doing the thing first. It works like a Pomodoro timer–I set a timer and work on a project, chore or task for about 25 minutes. After 25 minutes is up, I’m free to continue working or to take a short smartphone break. I can launch birds, scroll through Instagram or find funny GIFs for a few minutes. Then it’s back to work.
I’m also setting up “phone-free zones”, where smartphones are not allowed (except to answer calls and texts as needed). These “zones” can be physical places, like the bathroom, or zones of time, like the first 30 minutes after you wake up.
My plan is outlined below. Feel free to modify it as needed. If you want shorter or longer periods of time, change it. If you want different phone-free zones, switch them up. Change this plan to suit your needs and goals.
The Detox Plan
Here’s my plan, in 3 parts:
- Make a mental note of things I need to do. Pick one thing and do it for at least 25 minutes before checking my phone. After 25 minutes, allow a short (3-5 minute) break to check my phone, get on Twitter, watch a video, play a quick puzzle game, etc. Rinse and repeat.
- Institute phone-free zones. These include times of day and physical areas. These will be as follows:
- Obvious places (car, restroom, etc.).
- In bed, either at night or in the morning.
- During meals.
- The first 30 minutes after waking up and 30 minutes before bed (exception: alarms, necessary calls)
- Daily and weekly accounting via social media posts, blog post and to my wife. I’ll also try to keep logs in a journal about my experiences, successes and struggles.
We can do this! Phones are tools that should improve our lives and make them more convenient. They should not control us or our actions. Join me in implementing this plan in your own life. Have the courage and self-control to put down the phone and enjoy the life happening all around you. Rediscover the power of love and creativity as you pay attention and limit consumption. Let’s do this digital detox together!
- PopSugar offers a 7-day phone detox plan here.
- Leo Babauta (Zen Habits) offers guidance about living without a smartphone here.
- Anthony Ongaro (Break the Twitch) also struggles with smartphone addiction. He has several articles about smartphone usage:
If you want some extra help breaking free from the chains of clutter, digital or otherwise, you should check out A Simple Year 2017. This year-long course offers tips, tricks, insights, articles, videos and a community of like-minded people to help you simplify your life in many aspects. The course is normally $240 for the year, but right now it’s only $180 (until Nov 13th).
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Also published on Medium.