To be free, to be happy and fruitful, can only be attained through sacrifice of many common but overestimated things — Robert Henri (American painter and teacher)
Answer the following 2 questions about your smartphone:
- Is the time spent on your phone worth the benefits you’re receiving?
- Is your phone the best way to achieve those benefits?
To help frame up a good answer to #1, make a list of all the “benefits” — I bet the top benefits include:
- Connectivity with the ones you care about
- Collaboration with your peers and colleagues
I challenge the premise that your phone is the best way to achieve collaboration and connectivity. Cell phones have created a generation of young people who are riddled with anxiety and lack the interpersonal communication skills to engage in meaningful conversations. Don’t participate in the insanity, eliminate it altogether.
Want to let your friend who just had a new baby know you’re thinking about them? Go visit them. Make them dinner, offer to do errands for them. A face to face visit will cultivate a deep and meaningful relationship. A ‘like’, ‘heart’ or superficial comment like ‘omg how adorable’ is nothing more than a low-value digital interaction lacking merit and thoughtfulness.
Want to wish your friend a happy birthday? Send them a text message or make a phone call asking them when he or she is available for lunch/dinner/linner, and then wish them a happy birthday in person. Make the phone your platform to organize and schedule face to face interactions. Be cautious when your phone becomes the primary platform through which you communicate. Face to face conversations > strings of digital texts over an undefined timeline with no end date in sight.
The beauty of a face to face conversation is that it forces growth in the area interpersonal communication skills. Face to face conversations requires that you learn how to think on your toes and respond to dynamic and unpredictable conversations on-the-fly. There is no time to formulate a perfect response or “wait 3 days to respond” like there is in our digital world. That is the beauty of face to face conversations.
Over the past 12 months, I've explored ways to cultivate and grow my communication skills, social awareness, and candidly...just improve relationships with friends and families through real-life connectivity. Through this, I've thought about what has been the most effective in improving my social awareness and breaking my dependency on my phone. The items below have been game-changers. My advice is to take it slow. If your goal is to drive a digital detox into your life and improve relationships with the ones you love, pick one item, try it for 7 days, then pick another, try it for 7 days, and repeat until you’ve achieved digital independence. Going 0 to 100 with a digital detox is like telling a fat kid who drinks 10 sodas a day he can’t have anymore soda. You gotta ween big boy off slowly over a longer duration with intentional actions and a plan. Look at your phone…has it become your soda? how many cans a day do you drink?
1. Disable all notifications on your smartphone.
In a previous life, I used to be a senior manager at a management consulting firm. Clients were in a perpetual state of 10x pissed. I lived in a world of constant connectivity. It was insanity. I couldn’t think clearly, I was always reacting to the fire-drill of the hour, and didn’t have time to think strategically. My phone’s notification system legitimately made me anxious in anticipation of the next emergency which required my attention. Look at your phone screen now, how many red dots do you have on your apps? Stop the madness and disable ALL notifications, make the red dots go away. Own your phone, don’t let your phone own you. Disable all visual and auditory notifications now.
2. Delete email from your phone.
Only check your email at pre-defined time intervals. I do it 3x per day:
- 900AM to let individuals know I've received their message and will get back to them at date XYZ that works for me (or I delete the message and never respond)
- 100PM to review and disposition email responses I sent at 900AM
- 400PM to let individuals know I've received their message and will get back to them at date XYZ that works for me (or I delete the message and never respond)
My time in between? I focus on high-value activities which align to specific goals I've laid out for myself. The time between emails is what I refer to as “Deep Thinking”. This is where the genius happens. Don’t let anyone take away your deep thinking time. Take ownership of your time and master your outcomes.
3. Delete your Instagram, completely.
I truly believe Instagram was the catalyst which created our “never alone mindset”. Waiting line at the store? Pull out your phone and go on Instagram. In the bathroom? Pull out your phone and go on Instagram. In a group setting with nothing to say? Pull out your phone and go on Instagram. Pathetic right? I toyed with deleting my Instagram for many months and this was actually the last activity I performed in my journey to digital freedom.
I tried deleting the app, only to redownload it in moments of weakness. I disabled my account, only to rationalize that it should be enabled so I can “share this awesome moment” (or more like a photo where I look 10/10 haha ). After reading the book “digital minimalism” I finally pulled the ripcord: I downloaded my pics from Instagram and deleted my account.
60 days later? No regrets, not a single one. I genuinely don’t think humans are meant to have expansive networks which span in the hundreds or thousands. They are all “weak relationship” which lack a strong foundation e.g. your friend from your 1st internship in college who lives across the country. Delete your account you will not regret it. Focus on cultivating meaningful relationships with a small group of individuals who matter the most to you, and ignore the masses. Today I spend my free time enjoying the present, not worrying about that perfect IG pic.
4. Make all your apps fit on one screen with no folders.
Short of downgrading to a nokia or flip phone (which I did for a short period of time, article coming soon), forcing yourself to a set of apps which take at most one screen with no folders is a fantastic way to prioritize technologies which add value to your life vs technologies which consume your time and dumb down your ability to communicate and think critically. I remember when the iphone first came out..I literally had 8 screens of apps, it was insanity. Today? I have 16 apps in total. Pure freedom. Each app has a specific person and was selected with intention.
5. No phone Sundays.
This is clutch. Spend 1 day a week without a phone. I prefer Sundays because it gives me an opportunity to reflect upon the week and ask myself:
- Did I achieve the goals I want?
- What do I want to achieve next week
and most importantly…
- How do I feel?
I have uninterrupted lunches with the ones I love. I take my dogs for a walk..and actually focus on them. The digital detox provides a moment of clarity and a focus. Most importantly, it enables me to explore the feelings of the most important person in the world…me :) I challenge you to spend next Sunday going to the grocery store and running your errands without a phone. If you’re worried about your car breaking down or being stranded, lock your phone in the trunk of your car & turn it off before you start. But be warned..when you’re standing line with others getting ready to pay for your groceries, try not to judge the poor souls who are glued to their iPhone in a never-ending stream of low-quality interactions. You used to be one of them.
San Francisco, CA