Times are strange. Having been sequestered away for months, we’ve been more connected to technology than ever. We also seem to have hit a limit. We’re burned out, disenfranchised, and disillusioned.
I’m seeing people taking drastic action to disconnect from technology. I totally get it. I deactivated my Facebook a couple of weeks ago and it felt glorious. It still does.
Others may not be ready to pull the plug or may not even care to. My best friend swears she has a perfectly healthy relationship with social media. She told me this at happy hour last week and I just looked at her saying, “Mmmmm hmmm,” while sipping my beer.
Doing a digital clean up doesn’t have to be hard, broad sweeping, or overly dramatic. But, it allows you to quiet down the noise around you so you’re not in sensory overload every 34 seconds.
These actions take very little time, have a lasting effect, and will help you in ways you may not even realize.
Cull your heard
After realizing a few weeks in a row that I was in a generally pissy mood most of the time, I started to look around me. I had over a thousand “friends” on Facebook. Seriously. No one has that many friends.
What we actually have are a lot of minor acquaintances, friends of friends, people we met six years ago after a concert, and other random people we’ve collected over the years that we couldn’t pick out of a lineup.
The issue with all of these superficial relationships is that they’re often not bringing value to our everyday life. How do we connect with over a thousand people in a meaningful way? We can’t.
What I found is that many of the people who were getting under my skin regularly were not the people I was close to in real life. Oddly, the people I was closest to hardly ever post on social media. This was a huge sign to me that changes were needed.
I went through and deleted a quarter of my social media relationships. If I hadn’t had a meaningful interaction with them in the last three years, we didn’t need to be connected.
What doing this does for you:
- Decreases the amount of influence you allow in your life
- Allows you to focus on fostering and building the relationships that do matter
- Controls the amount of info you see, which decreases scrolling time.
If you’re hesitant about cutting ties, trust me when I tell you that someone you’ve not interacted with for three years will not miss you.
Turn off your notifications
Since I started writing this article, my phone, which is on vibrate and across the room, has buzzed exactly once. Last month, it would have happened ten times as much. No, I didn’t become wildly unpopular since last month.
What I did was go through my settings and turned off nearly all of my notifications. It was too much. The average person gets 46 push notifications a day. Many times, it’s connected to a little bit of dopamine we’ve become addicted to. It’s low key psychological manipulation.
The difficulty of the app notification is that rarely do we just pick up the phone and check that one notification. And, it’s designed to draw you back into the app. Why? Because the more you pick up the phone from the app notification, the more ads the app can send you which is their income source.
What doing this does for you:
- Allows you to control when you receive information
- Reduces the outside influence of apps to determine when you use your phone
- Allows you to stay focused on what you are doing without interruption
The world will not burn down if you do this. I mean, a huge missile could come from North Korea but may you’re better off not knowing that, anyway.
Clean up your inbox
If you're anything like me, you have willfully given your email address to anyone who has offered you a coupon or discount. You need an oil change? I have a coupon.
Wading into my email was overwhelming and time-consuming for me. By the time I cleared out all the nonsense, I either forgot why I was in my email to begin with, had been distracted by something on sale, or just got too tired to complete the task I started. What the hell?
If you spend the first ten minutes you have your email open deleting unopened email, you have a problem on your hands. The unsubscribe button is your friend. Handle this like disconnecting from people. If you haven’t visited a website or made a purchase from a company in the last year or two, you don’t need the email subscription.
What this does for you:
- Decreases the likelihood of impulse spending and fear of missing out
- Shortens the amount of time you inherently spend in email
- Allows you to keep your inbox organized
Even if you’ve made a purchase from a company that shows up regularly in your inbox, give some thought as to whether that purchase was intentional or because you saw the email. Unsubscribe accordingly.
Establish non-digital routes for connection
Get addresses. Get phone numbers. Create space for connection before you start plugging plugs. It’s critical to your success in disconnecting.
Be honest with the amount of time you have. You have more than you think. You can’t tell me you don’t have time to text people, send a note, or meet someone for coffee.
Coffee takes an hour out of your day. The average person spends two and a half hours a day on social media alone. And, coffee is delicious. Wine, even more so.
We’ve become reliant on technology to connect us because it’s easy. Most times, it’s passive. We can alert people to what’s happening in our lives by posting a picture, tweet, or diatribe in relation to a life event.
What doing this does for you:
- Allows you to focus on the quality of relationships, not the quantity
- Increases our ability to express ourselves genuinely
- Decreases our dependency on digital communication for connection
Face to face communication is much better for us than digital. It improves our overall ability to communicate, understand, and feel heard. As a result of this, our relationships improve.
Set metric goals for usage
Depending on your device, you can track your habits and create goals for yourself based on what you want to work on most — overall screen time, app usage, etc.
One of the metrics I am focusing on is the number of “pickups” I have during the day. I was shocked how often I pick up the phone, especially immediately after notification. Shameful.
I factor out text message pickups as those conversations trickle in but I know that, because I’m tracking my usage, I try not to meaningless just grab my phone. I have a goal of less than three dozen pickups a day. That’s still every 30 minutes for 18 hours but 20 pickups less than the average user.
What it does for you:
- Challenges you to stick to the digital decisions for usage you’ve made and set goals that can pare down usage over time
- Allows you to monitor how effective your efforts are
- Lets you monitor whether you replace one screen time outlet for another
Accountability is huge to me. I need it. Knowing that I’m checking against my goals for the week keeps me from grabbing the damn phone for no reason.
We all need to monitor and adjust our lives from time to time by examining our routines and behaviors. We need to make decisions in our own best interest, including those that encourage human connection and the improvement of our mental health.
Just like our homes and our cars, we need to do an occasional deep cleaning. How much work we have to do is determined by how much of a mess we’ve made. Taking time to tidy up our digital lives shouldn’t be avoided or time-consuming.
You digital clean up should be done like anything else in your life. Keep it simple and keep it sustainable.