I recently read that 11% of internet users tried a digital detox in the past week.
When I heard the word “detox,” I immediately thought of a hermit living in a cave, miles from the nearest Ethernet port or phone charger.
It struck me as a nice place for deep thinking but also as a completely impractical way of living or working.
Then I reconsidered what a digital detox can look like.
1. Use A Dumb Phone
“What is Hugh Jackman’s net worth?”
That’s just one of the random searches I caught myself typing into Google while bored.
I knew it was hardly a good use of time.
So I bought an old Nokia dumb phone for €40 and a SIM card converter off of eBay. Then I put away my iPhone.
I didn’t waste much time brushing up on random celebrity facts, and my new phone drew a few questions in the pub.
However, I also wasn’t able to log into several online services that rely on Google Authenticator. And I got lost on more than one occasion because I (overly) depend on Google Maps.
If you’re using the strategy, consider applying it for a single day of the week rather than for the entire week. Alternatively, you could use two numbers–one for each device.
2. Block Your Internet Access
Surely disconnecting from the net doesn’t equate to increased productivity?
It does if you catch yourself wasting time on Twitter, The Washington Post or Etsy when a big report is due.
A writer I once knew loved telling us how she stashed her modem in the attic so she could work on a beleaguered manuscript.
I can’t imagine IT or co-workers understanding if you unplugged the company servers because you need to finish a big report. Still, you can use an app like Freedom or Rescue Time to block certain sites on your computer or mobile device.
Then by all means, reward yourself after a clean and focused hour of productive work.
3. Kill Notifications
A few Fridays ago, I was on a large conference call. The presenter knew his material and had captured our attention, which was no mean feat considering the late hour.
Then a notification popped up on screen from WhatsApp about an upcoming football match.
The instructor dismissed it with a click and carried on, but it was too late. I couldn’t help but wonder about his weekend and mine.
Notifications to avoid include: email, instant messaging, updates and upgrades.
Ok, so it’s not quite a detox, but those addictive little dings, whirrs and pop-ups aren’t helping you get things done faster.
They’re pulling your attention away from the task at hand and toward someone else’s priorities.
4. Turn It Off
Consider if you’ve had the perplexing experience of listening intently to someone only to feel a phone vibrating.
Who is it? What do they want? And how soon can I reply?
Before you know it, the person beside you is asking a question and you’ve no idea what they just said.
A friend will understand your broken attention span, but what about your boss or a big client?
If you’re meeting an important client or customer, put your phone out of sight in a bag or coat pocket. Better yet, turn on the “Do not disturb” mode.
If you’re working on a project, leave your phone in another room. You can always get up and check it when you need to stretch your legs after an hour of chipping away at the project.
This practice is kind of like a person on a diet who removes sweet temptations from their cupboard and puts apples on the counter instead.
Live Like a Hermit For An Hour A Day
A digital detox doesn’t have to mean handing back your iPhone, shredding your Wi-Fi password and departing for a beach in Goa.
It’s impractical to cut off internet access for an entire workweek, but you can slice through a to do list if your work is your main focus. For example, I sometimes write offline before connecting to the internet to use an app like Grammarly
Smartphones are useful — and even fun — tools, but let “Airplane” and “Do not disturb” modes become your friends.
Spend just an hour of your workday off the grid, and you’ll get more done than you can imagine.
(For those keeping score: Hugh is worth more than $100 million).
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