Every once in a while it’s good to take pause and evaluate how you use technology in your everyday life. One way of doing so is to do a ” technology cleanse”: get off the grid, if only for a little while, and see how it affects you. But you shouldn’t just quit cold turkey; here’s how to prepare for your digital detox.
Picture: Oleg GawriloFF/Shutterstock
This post originally appeared on Inc.
What caused me to consider what sorts of preparations were required to give up technology for a little while was Lent. If you’re not familiar with Lent, it is a period of about six-weeks during which Christians of many denominations and other observers traditionally fast or forsake luxuries.
Last year serial entrepreneur Andrew Weyrich attempted giving up several forms of electronic contact: Google chat, texting, Facebook, and email. When I spoke to him about it not long ago, he was candid about how challenging it was. “I will admit that later on in the 40 days of Lent, I broke the texting part of it,” he says. “It was too difficult. People thought I had disappeared.”
Weyrich’s candour underscores what might be the hardest part of a technology cleanse. Even if you feel ready to step away from your smartphone, you have to make sure all the people accustomed to reaching you aren’t caught off-guard by your sudden absence.
That was one thing I learned when attempting a technology cleanse of my own recently. It was late January. I was on vacation at a yoga retreat, out of the country for one week. It was the third straight year I’d taken this vacation. Though I’d tried a tech cleanse in each of the previous years, this was the first year I actually felt relaxed, rather than stressed by it.
When I returned home, I made a list of the reasons the Cleanse of 2015 had been the most successful. There were seven reasons, all of which were preparatory steps:
1. Let Everyone in Your World Know You’ll Be off the Grid
As Weyrich points out, your friends and family will worry about you if you cease replying or connecting with your usual consistency, so you need to tell your most frequent contacts you’ll be unreachable for a while. This may seem like a lot of extra work, but it’s actually easy to pull off, because you’ll be calling or texting or messaging these contacts anyway in the weeks before you vanish.
Which means you don’t have to make any extra calls or send any extra emails or texts. You just have to remember, as you say goodbye or sign off, to alert these frequent contacts that you’ll be gone for a while. It’s the ideal task for a checklist.
2. Create An “In Case of Emergency, Break Glass” System
When you take a technology cleanse, one of the top things you’ll worry about is how family and loved ones can reach you if there’s an emergency.
What you need to do is make an honest list of the emergencies you’re worried about. Then speak to those who’d be in a position to contact you. Let them know how they can reach you, even during a cleanse.
For example, if you’re staying at a particular hotel, give them the hotel’s phone number. That way, they will be able to reach you, but you’ll still be able to maintain your cleanse.
3. Practise a Partial Cleanse before Going Cold Turkey
If you’re addicted to your smartphone, you’re not going to enjoy giving it up. While a cleanse sounds nice in principle, you might have better luck adhering to it if you try partial measures first.
For example, Sloane Davidson, a speaker, activist, and brand ambassador, has launched a movement called #DinnerMode.
The name of Davidson’s movement is a verbal twist on the “aeroplane mode” you can set a phone to while in flight. Here’s how it works: Set a timer on your phone for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or 60 minutes. Challenge whomever you’re dining with to do the same. Make sure your phone’s screen is out of your sight. Turn it down on the table or put it away.
Enjoy your short period of peace.
Davidson is not the first entrepreneur to laud the healthful, creativity-inducing virtues of unplugging. But her method is a great first step toward a full-fledged cleanse. It can help you rehearse what your “break glass” emergency thoughts might be.
4. Unsubscribe from Emails and Notifications
The first two years I tried my cleanse, all of the stress I left behind promptly came back when I returned to my desk one week later. In addition to the annoyance of unpacking, there were literally hundreds of emails to sort through.
The worst part was that most of them were unimportant notifications, needlessly inflating the inbox’s totals. So this year, starting several weeks before I left, I made it a habit to unsubscribe from these emails as soon as they arrived.
The result? When I returned, I had fewer than 100 emails to sort through. It took me one hour, compared to several hours in previous years.
5. Separate Your Device’s Stresses from Its Comforts
The first two years I tried my cleanse, I left my phone behind. I thought it would be the easiest way to execute the cleanse. Call it the “throw out your cigarettes” approach.
But without my phone handy, I worried about what I’d do if there were an emergency and I needed to reach someone. I also missed my phone, for reasons that had nothing to do with email, texting, and social media. I missed the songs and photographs I keep on it. Without them, the vacation wasn’t as fun.
So this year, I brought the phone with me and kept it in aeroplane mode. I enjoyed Eric B. & Rakim when I needed to; I enjoyed pictures of friends and family when I wanted to. I had a better time on vacation as a result. And I still adhered to — and savoured — the no-communications tenets of the cleanse.
6. Make Sure the Time Is Right
The cleanse will stress you out if you try it during a time when you’re on edge, whether it’s for personal or professional reasons.
The first two years I tried my cleanse, I was on edge. My novel, 10 years in the making, was about to be released (2013); the next year, I was in the midst of its marketing campaign (2014). I mistakenly thought these pressures would help me appreciate the communications getaway that a cleanse could provide.
Instead, I just worried about missing important book-related messages.
This year, I was past the book launch — and much more relaxed. The point is simple: You’ll be more at ease during your cleanse if you’re more at ease to begin with.
7. Rehearse What You’ll Do or Think about When You Start to Get Nervous
One of the hardest parts of a technology cleanse is that wherever you go, you’ll see other people interacting with their devices.
Inevitably, you’ll hear them talking about a weather emergency in your hometown or a scary news event. Hearing about these subjects, you’ll be tempted to reach for your phone for one comfort or another.
To preserve the cleanse, you’ll need to combat these temptations. You can remind yourself that you have little to worry about, thanks to the “break glass” precautions you’ve taken. You can listen to a comforting song, or remind yourself to stay in the present. Whatever you do, practise it prior to the cleanse. Develop a litany of positive thoughts that can help you reroute your worries.
Above all, respect the commitment you’ve made to the cleanse. But don’t be too hard on yourself, if you need to break the commitment. The idea is to benefit from the discipline of withdrawal, and such discipline seldom develops without a lapse or two along the way.
Ilan Mochari’s debut novel, Zinsky the Obscure (Fomite Press, 2013), earned rave reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Booklist. Boston’s NPR station named it one of 10 “Good Reads for the Summer”. He is a senior writer for Inc magazine.