How to do your own digital detox (and succeed)

Photo: Getty

Photo: Getty

It’s the time of year where many of us take a break. Increasingly that break comes with the need to unplug and announce to your networks (especially your professional ones) that you’re unplugging.

Taking time out from work, and by inextricable association, from technology is important for our overall wellbeing. We all benefit from taking time to decompress and reflect on the year we’re farewelling, allowing ourselves to re-calibrate and rejuvenate, ready to take another trip around the sun.

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Digital detoxing and the trend towards a course-correction on our tech-saturated lives is being widely heralded this season.

While many of us may need to reign in unfettered tech-habits and sever auto-pilot logins and check-ins, long term behaviour change takes much more effort and planning than a handful of days away from technology in order to be successful and sustainable.

Importantly it’s the cognitions – the thoughts, perceptions and understandings – that accompany the online content we create and consume that requires reconsideration.

Detoxes and fad diets don’t work, there is no magic bullet for weight loss – similarly with tech detoxing, you need to reshape your thinking to see the change.

Some people have a hard time getting through a shave without checking Tinder for matches. Photo: Getty

Some people have a hard time getting through a shave without checking Tinder for matches. Photo: Getty

1. Take an audit of your time online

Moment app is a great way to come face to face with just how often your pick up your phone and how much time is spent ‘blue facing’ each day. Data helps provide evidence for our desire to change and benchmark how big the issue actually is. You can use several plug-ins to monitor desktop use too.

2. Set realistic guidelines for your use of technology

You don’t need to go cold turkey. In fact, being too restrictive might just mean you binge-use your digital devices when you get back online. Be honest, you want to see what others are up to and keep connected – honour that in a way that balances presence with scrolling. Set small, clear and attainable ‘rules’ that you have a chance of being successful in achieving (you can tighten these as you get better weaning yourself off old habits).

This might be things like:

• Not texting while walking (or driving!).

• Having a ‘digital sunset’ by setting an alarm each night for around an hour before your bedtime to remind you to turn all your screens off.

• Using flight mode more often.

•  Doing errands and small trips without your phone (for example, to do the shopping or in a gym class).

3. Complete a digital de-clutter

Spend time (and it will take some time if you don’t do it regularly!) to streamline and organise what you see online, in your social media feeds and your inbox.

•  Back up your phone, photos and files.

•  Delete old photos and apps off your phone.

•  Curate your newsfeed more effectively by unliking/unfollowing groups/pages on social media that you don’t feel you get benefit from. Try software like Just Unfollow to do this effectively.

•  Unfollow friends who might not contribute usefully to your news feed (you don’t need to defriend them to keep them out of your newsfeed!).

•  Change your notifications so you only get the most important updates (I get Facebook private messages and event invites emailed to me so I don’t feel like I am missing out too much on personalised communication).

•  Archive old messages from your inboxes.

•  Use to clean up your email subscriptions (or simply unsubscribe what you usually delete).

Photo: Getty

Experts don’t recommend going cold turkey as this may make users prone to ‘tech binges’. Photo: Getty

4. Communicate expectations about email responses

Many people have made a rod for their own back when it comes to being responsive and communicative to work emails, creating an always-on headspace which adds to risk of burn out.

It might be that you need to communicate expectations around when people can expect to receive responses.  Some recommend setting a permanent auto-reply that outlines to people your email checking habits. Others use the five sentences method to discipline emails into manageable communication. I also have started using ‘voice memo’ on my phone to record replies rather than type them out.

5. Catch, check and change your thinking

These are The Three C’s of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and they’re helpful to apply when noticing your thoughts and feelings when using technology and in order to bring more mindfulness, meaning and moderation to our use of technology. When you master noticing and compassionately reframing your thoughts, you can shape your behaviour more effectively.

Catch yourself having unhelpful thoughts when viewing friends’ posts and comparing yourself to them, or scrolling mindlessly without registering what you’re seeing in a newsfeed.

Check the thought – is it true (are they really living a perfect life? are you seeing the whole picture?), is it helpful (to beat yourself up for not making it to the gym).

Change the thoughts – flip the thinking to be more balanced, adjusted and to understand the mechanisms behind some of the social media we consume. It’s part of being a good digital citizen and improving media literacy.

This article was originally published here.

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