In the time it took me to write this blog I checked my phone four times, sent two text messages, replied to two WhatsApp messages and checked my email three times. I got distracted checking the news and replying to an email that had nothing to do with this blog. I also did some research on YouTube which led me down a rabbit hole of addictive social media that felt like it was more difficult to escape from than Alcatraz.
In what should have been two hours of work, it took me four. Moreover, as well as the extra time it took me, it distracted my mental energy from the task at hand meaning that I had to keep going back over myself.
It wasn’t just unproductive, it was anti productive.
Multitasking all of these digital distractions is so pervasive in the modern world that we’ve come to accept it as normal. It was certainly normal in my old office job where the pressure of feeling like you have to be connected all the time and responding to messages straight away distracted the focus from quality work.
But the paradox is that not only do we do less, physically, than ever before when we are constantly connected, we also almost never do nothing. Our bodies are inundated with stimulation from noise, light, screens and technology more than ever before. This extremely unnatural unbalance is causing our bodies to be constantly physically and mentally stressed.
So I believe we need to find a balance with modern technology and set boundaries to sometimes deprive our minds of the stimulation that it craves with digital fasting.
What is digital fasting
Digital fasting is the process of setting periods in your day or your week where you are not using certain forms of technology. Usually, phones, tablets or laptops.
Incorporating regular “Digital Fasting’ or “Digital Detoxing” can be effective methods to improve your relationship with your phone so that you control it rather than it controlling you.
Benefits to unplugging from technology
Less stress and anxiety – There is so much information to consume it’s hard to know what to pay attention to and what to ignore. This in itself increases stress and anxiety. Escaping from technology for a bit helps with this and allows you to reconnect with your human self instead of being stressed on auto pilot.
More productive – Switching off your phone means no notifications or phone calls. Switching off the internet connection means no emails or checking the news. This has helped me supercharge how much writing and work I can get done.
More present and creative – If we feel bored or get stuck with something, it’s tempting to get your phone out and start scrolling without a purpose. It’s also tempting to try ‘get more done’ by walking and being on your phone at the same time. However, this is just being busy for the sake of being busy and increases stress draining your energy. I now use these times to try and practice mindfulness – simply by focusing on my breath or looking at nature can recharge my energy and it’s during these calm moments that I often have my best ideas.
More focus – Switching your phone off, shutting down email and the internet means I only have one option: do the damn work. It’s incredible how being focused on one task at a time improves my work quality.
Better sleep – I’ve already written how sleep is the most important aspect of your health. It’s been proven that the light from screens can play havoc with your circadian rhythm and your sleep cycles. If I’m on screens working late at night I never seem to sleep well so it’s especially important to eliminate screen time close to bedtime.
Reflection – One of the most prized assets of our modern world is our attention. From TV to marketing to magazines to apps, our attention is constantly being vied for. This makes it all too easy to get caught up in this and you simply lose the time and mental capacity for healthy reflection on the trajectory your life is on and what your personal values are. The way we get that perspective is by eliminating distraction and noise from our technology.
More time for important tasks– Along with our energy levels, time is again a precious commodity. Digital fasting can help prod you into doing something you’ve always wanted to do but never had the time to do; learning another language, artwork, exercise, playing hobbies, journaling, catching up with friends, reading, cooking etc. The possibilities are endless!
How to try digital fasting
However you go about it, it has to work for you.
Some suggestions would be to focus on what you will gain (above) and prioritise the digital activities that are important such as connecting with friends and family and self development/learning. Additionally, you could try setting boundaries on other activities such as watching the news or playing games.
A checklist works well and a few ideas you might consider are;
- Include a note in you email signature that you only check email at certain times
- Set a timer limit such as 1-2 hours of TV, news, social media or gaming a day
- No screens 30 minutes before bed
- Turn off all notifications on your phone or put it on mute
- Use an app such as rescuetime to track how long you spend on digital tasks
- Ban phones when catching up with friends and family or at dinner
- Combine Digital Fasting with getting out in nature for 30 minutes a day
- Schedule time for non digital activities as mentioned above – reading, cooking etc
Be kind to yourself
Don’t make this another thing to feel guilty about if you aren’t perfect! The goal is to improve your relationship with your technology, not make you feel guilty for being on your phone too long.
Modern technology is great. It connects us, allows us to share our stories and learn whatever we want. This is not intended to criticise it. It’s intended to raise awareness of the unintended consequences of being too connected to your technology and help you find some healthy balance.
So take action now and let me know how you get on.