We all know the importance of downtime, whether it involves giving yourself time to recharge your batteries, get organized, or simply stop and smell the roses. But how many of us think of downtime as time without our beloved electronics?
Unfortunately, in our jam-packed, hustle-bustle, on-the-go lives, it can be really hard to disconnect.
Twenty years ago, social media didn’t exist—the Internet was just budding, most of us were yet to own a cell phone (though some of us had beepers or “car phones” for emergencies), and home computers were much too big to lug around. I specifically remember being amazed by the idea of email in my late teens. You can connect with anyone for free! It only takes a few minutes to send over dial-up! AOL is so cool! Listen: it says, “You’ve got mail!”
Back then, when you stepped away from the computer or left the house, you were disconnected from electronics and fully connected to what was going on around you. People had to leave messages and wait for answers. News came in papers. If you needed to find something, you used a map or a phonebook. You probably spent time at the library researching in reference books.
Today, things have changed. Information is instant and connections are constant. We’re comfortable, used to, and dependent on instantly reaching our kids, spouse and loved ones via text message. We share all kinds of minutiae about our lives. We can see what our cousin had for dinner on Instagram. We receive news instantly, as it happens. Our phones are loaded with thousands of photos and we have relationships and contact with people we probably wouldn’t have stayed in touch with twenty years ago.
There are a number of studies out there on the concept of FOMO (fear of missing out) and how social media, electronics, and our constant connectedness aren’t always a positive thing. Anyone who’s been irked by someone else’s Facebook post and wondered, “Why am I even still friends with someone I shared a hall with in college?” knows the struggle is real.
Just the other day, I sat down to write a thank you note and I literally couldn’t remember how to spell a few simple words. I ended up looking them up on my phone to double check. Our dependence on autocorrect and spellcheck, plus the ability to ask Siri or Google anything and receive an immediate response has limited our ability to think on our feet.
In so many ways, technology is a blessing, but it can also be a curse. We let our electronics do our thinking for us. We feel constantly tied and obligated to stay connected with others, and our personal relationships suffer because of it. Our lives become cluttered with technology.
How many of us have tried to hold a conversation with someone who can’t put down his or her phone? It feels insulting and frustrating, but we’ve all been guilty at some point. We’re so busy connecting, sharing, documenting and researching online we forget to engage IRL (in real life).
Steps to Disconnect
Now, before you panic (and FOMO kicks in), I’m not suggesting you completely throw out your phone and swear off the Internet. Clearly, as a blogger, the Internet is my livelihood. By connecting and sharing online with others I’ve been able to support my family and my life has been blessed beyond measure because of it.
However, especially as a blogger and someone who works online, the need to occasionally step away from the computer and put down my phone is even stronger. Because so much of Living Well Spending Less comes from my own life and activities, it’s pretty important I remain engaged and busy living THAT life, rather than just writing about it all the time. When I spend too much time writing and hanging out on the Internet, I actually run out of things to talk about. (Yes, even me.)
The same holds true for everyone though: all work and no play makes us dull. Ask any tax preparer during tax season, mom of a newborn, or teacher during back to school season—when one thing becomes your singular focus, you start to run out of interesting conversation. That’s why it’s so important we step back and disconnect on occasion: so we can feel rejuvenated, stimulated and ready to get back into work.
It can be hard to pry the phone out of our hands and really disconnect. What if you miss something important? What if there’s an emergency? We become overly vigilant, watching for a message to come through, so we can instantly respond. So how do we take a tech break?
1. Stop Multitasking!
Go for a walk without your phone, even if you fear missing out on an Instagram-worthy moment. Play outside with your kids for half an hour and leave your phone in the house. If you want to listen to music, try playing a CD or the radio, or even break out your iPod—just put your phone out of reach.
When you’re working on a project on the computer, try closing your browser windows and just focusing on the task at hand. Don’t leave your Facebook, your email and the news up in different tabs just so you can volley back and forth.
The really amazing thing? When you focus on just one task, you’ll actually enjoy what you’re doing more. You’ll remember the moment (even without the photographic proof) and dinner will taste just as delicious. You’ll feel present in the moment, your productivity will go up, and you’ll do everything better. So try giving up multitasking (or at least get smarter about it).
2. Don’t Check Your Email First
I’m just as guilty as anyone. Yes, too often I check my email first thing in the morning. Sometimes before I even get out of bed, I check it on my phone or tablet. What happens? I start responding, then we start going back and forth…and suddenly an hour of my morning is gone.
Ask yourself, have you ever received an emergency email in the middle of the night? Has there ever been something so urgent in your inbox you’ve had to leap out of bed and address it right away—work or personal? Typically, if there were a real emergency or urgent situation, you would get an actual phone call. When doctors are “on call” for emergencies, the hospital doesn’t usually email them and wait for a response. No, they pick up the phone and call. Similarly, you can rest assured your email won’t be used for lesser “emergencies” either.
Instead of checking first thing in the morning (or first thing when you get to work), tackle your toughest task first and get it out of the way. Then, no matter what happens for the rest of the day, you’ve already accomplished something great.
Keep your inbox organized and quickly discard junk. Try using filters or setting up automatic responders, which can clear some of the traffic. If you still struggle with organizing email, try Sortd for Gmail—a “skin” for Gmail (like a plugin) that helps turn your inbox into a workflow. You can also try Boomerang, which allows you to easily schedule email reminders so you can deal with them when you’re ready.
3. Set a Limit
Literally, set a timer and don’t pick up your phone for the set amount of time. Yes, this can be challenging at first.
Think of all the things you can do, no technology needed: exercise, read a story to your kids (from an actual book rather than on your Kindle), play a game, do a puzzle, walk your dog, make cookies, go for a drive, enjoy a romantic dinner with your spouse—the list is huge! Now, challenge yourself to do one of these activities mindfully and without the use of technology.
When you have a task you need to tackle and you’d like to do it technology free, never underestimate the power of an old-school timer. Try the timer on your stove or a simple digital timer—set it and go. Sometimes the challenge of completing a task during a set amount of time can keep you even more deeply focused and productive.
Lastly, block out time on your calendar and add technology-free time to your to-do list or planner. Just as with your workouts, scheduling time to disconnect will keep you accountable and ensure you hold to keeping your distractions at bay!
4. Block Distractions
If you find you just can’t stay away from social media or you can’t bear to ignore the glow of your phone, try switching your phone into airplane mode during the time you’d like to disengage.
There are a myriad of apps you can download to help you beat distractions as well: Freedom, SelfControl, Cold Turkey, and for writers, Writer’s Block. These apps block websites, set parameters for access to social media sites, and allow you to avoid distractions and too many “surfing” breaks.
Another method is to use a different ringtone for a few key callers and switch everyone else to vibrate or silence. (This is helpful for moms of teens who are worried about missing an emergency call.) You can also set your phone to ring only during certain hours, unless a caller calls twice in a row.
If you find you’re addicted to certain apps, hide them or even delete them from your phone. I find, if I have to download an app all over again or go to my computer to pull it up, I’ll often skip it. But if I have it right on hand, the temptation to click becomes much greater.
5. Make Rules and Stick to Them!
One of the key takeaways from all these parameters and ideas is to simply try applying self-control and self-discipline. This means, if you don’t want technology to rule your life, if you truly need a break or feel it’s making you distracted, sad or stressed, then you have to commit to making the change.
Set some rules for yourself, such as not checking your email first thing in the morning, only working on the task at hand, or not accessing technology after 8:00 pm—and religiously stick to your rules. If you go on vacation and still find yourself responding to work emails or looking at Facebook, you’re telling yourself limits don’t matter and you’re setting yourself up for failure.
The strange thing is, after setting up a few rules and following them, I’ve found I’m not missing out on a thing! When I check my phone after an “e-break” or when I finally pull up my Facebook feed, I’m often amazed at just how little I’ve missed out on. What’s more, I’m always grateful for the time I spent with my kids and my husband rather than surfing away on my phone or laptop.
This one can be quite a challenge. Some of us have hundreds of Facebook “friends” that we may never even talk to in real life. Yes, it can be nice to reconnect with your bestie from elementary school or keep in touch with your cousin in Arizona, but oftentimes our social media connections ring hollow.
Part of it is deciding what you really want out of social media. If you’re hoping to cultivate close friendships and a personal sense of community, then feel no guilt when it comes to blocking people from your newsfeed, ignoring friend requests, or even unfriending people.
For many of us whose personal and professional lives overlap, social media can be a bit more of a challenge. You can create groups in Facebook for those friends you specifically want to stay in contact with. Also, if your professional life is very online-specific (ahem), you can also consider setting up a personal page for yourself, close friends and family, then a separate professional page for your business and blog.
Setting up these social media designations and guidelines might seem like a lot of work or extra effort, but in reality, it will help you maintain relationships with those who really matter to you. You’ll see them more online and enjoy more quality interactions. Plus, you’ll save yourself from those unnecessary headaches you get after reading racist tirades or angry political posts from people you met once or knew ten years ago.
7. Go Old School
The next time you want to make something from a recipe, consider printing it out, getting it from a cookbook, or jotting down a few notes. Read a paper book or magazine. Get out your old camera and take photos with film. Use a pattern to sew something. Get “old school” about it!
My children love board games, charades, and playing pretend—none of which require any technology what-so-ever. We enjoy family bike rides and spending time outside gardening and digging around in the dirt. Think of all the things you did as a child, and even things your parents did. In the days before videogames, Netflix, iPads and digital technology, people still found ways to stay entertained. (Some would argue they were even MORE entertained.)
Go to a farmer’s market, listen to jazz in the park or enjoy an outdoor concert, go to a festival, or even to a carnival or fair. Take your kids swimming, snowshoeing, skiing, or on a hike. Eat dinner outside. Without the bells and whistles of technology, you can create plenty of memories from exciting activities. You may be amazed at the all the little things you’ll notice about the world around you.
8. Take a Technology Sabbath
If you’re ready to take the plunge, try going on a technology Sabbath. Take a day a week and unplug. If that sounds too extreme, commit to an afternoon or tech-free morning on a weekend. Get your spouse and your kids on board. This means no television, no cell phones, no e-readers. Put all the digital “stuff” away and do something together.
There’s been a movement over the last few years, as more and more people yearn to take a technology break. There are even adult summer camps based around the idea of turning off technology and getting outdoors to commune with nature and other people, face-to-face and in person.
As we’ve moved into the digital era, we’ve gained so much, but we’ve also lost a few things, including the value we place on interpersonal relationships, conversation, and living in the moment. As you unstuff your life and declutter, clear your mind and take a technology break. It’s time to unplug and tune in!
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