How to Unplug From Tech and Get Your Life Back
We are officially screen junkies.
Like. Click. Swipe. Share. Binge. Repeat.
A new study shows that American adults spend more than 11 hours per day on their tech, watching, reading, listening, and interacting with media. That’s up from nine hours and a half just four years ago.
We’ve let all this tech into our lives without ever questioning if we wanted or needed it.
Screens deliver a never-ending barrage of new shiny things so we’re always craving for more and more, as hamsters trapped on a wheel.
Eyestrains, constant headaches, back and neck problems, attention span decrease, worse quality of our sleep, weaker social bonds, just to name a few.
A new trend has emerged of digital detox “retreats” and“camps” where people go to unplug from smartphones and computers. It all sounds extreme until you realize that tech, like drugs, is an addiction. The irony? Most of this tech didn’t exist 10 years ago. We created this problem.
However, few have the time or resources to pay a digital detox expert to not let them use their tech. As such, we need to use our willpower to create our own retreat.
It’s time to unplug.
Let the digital detox begin…
How to Use the Digital Detox Guide
The ultimate goal of digital detox is to develop a healthier relationship with our tech. As such, you are the ultimate judge of what’s good and what’s bad for you.
Take it step-by-step and adjust as you see fit for your life. Read the principles as suggestions rather than rules. You can either follow them or not. Totally up to you.
To make your digital detox easier, I broke this guide into 4 levels:
- White Belt Beginner: the very basics of digital detox, we’ll cover the easiest ways to simplify your relationship with tech right now. Most changes take less than 5 minutes to implement. The goal of this section is to get some early wins fast to help you build momentum to keep going
- Blue Belt Student: we’ll build on the foundations of Level 1 and start asking questions. You’ll learn how to quit your bad habits and fundamentally change your interaction with tech by building simple systems
- Black Belt Master: on Level 3 of your digital detox, we’ll start wiring new habits and routines that will change your relationship with tech forever. To do so, you must adjust your defaults and become a better gatekeeper of what you allow in your life
- Sensei Teacher: you understand that adding value to life is about removing. The previous levels taught you that sometimes the best option is to quit the technologies that don’t contribute to your goals. Your personal mantra is “less is more”
Some of the changes might take a while to stick. Remember: take it step-by-step. Slow and steady wins the race.
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” — Confucius
Digital Detox Level 1: White Belt Beginner
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated”. — Confucius
The aim of this Level is to make little changes that will make your life easier with tech.
It’s intentionally simple so you make the changes right away and small to give you wins early on and build momentum.
- We’re Not That Close: uninstall all the programs that you haven’t used in a long time (or at all!)
- Spring Cleaning: remove all the files and programs from your desktop and start using Spotlight search. While you’re at it, pick a nice wallpaper that will help you focus (I like Simple Desktops)
- Kill Your Darlings: the websites you save on your bookmarks bar are the ones you will visit more often. Remove infinity scrolling websites — such as social media or news — from it
- I’m Blue (Da Ba Dee Da Ba Baa!): use f.lux to automatically adapt the color of your computer’s display to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day
- I’ll Do It Later: practice delay responding to email. For each email you need to reply, you need to wait at least two hours before replying
- Desk Foodie: eat lunch anywhere else other than your desk. Your desk is made to work, not eat. Checking your phone while eating is also cheating. Trust me, food is way better than Instagram
- So Long Friend: go through your apps and delete everything that you don’t use. It’s cluttering your phone
- The Sound of Silence: turn off all sounds (and yeah, vibration is sound). Go to Settings → Sounds and turn off the “vibrate on silent” feature. Then scroll down and set all the sounds and vibration patterns to “None”, except for your ringtone
- Hello From the Other Side: whenever possible, use the speakers during calls. Holding the phone close to your ear offers a lot of radiation and heat
- Here Comes the Sun: switch to a standard alarm clock instead of using your phone. No more checking email and social media first thing in the morning. You can’t miss what you don’t know
- That’s How We Rolex: switch to an old fashion wristwatch. Use it to check the time instead of looking at your phone or smartwatch
- Need to Be S(cr)een: no looking at your phone while interacting with other people. Not only family and friends but every single social interaction, such as waiters and shopkeepers
- No Data, No Cry: switch off cellular data completely when you’re not at home or work. Added bonus: you’ll save money on your phone bill
Digital Detox Level 2: Blue Belt Student
“The one who knows all the answers has not been asked all the questions.” — Confucius
Well done on completing Level 1!
To get to Blue Belt level you’ll need to start asking the right questions, such as “Is this technology contributing to my goals?” or “Does it help me focus or leads to distraction?”.
- Searching: search is so powerful now that filling is a thing of the past. Use fewer but bigger folders. I have “Work”, “Personal”, and “Fun” and then just search inside each one of them for what I need. Choose easy to remember names for your folders and files so you can always find anything quickly
- On Cloud Nine: upload files you don’t use regularly to the cloud. The major contenders are photos and old files you don’t need
- The Reader: stop browsing and reading websites that do not contribute to your life. Removing an option by default is the quickest way to change behavior
- Just Browsing: no browsing articles while working. Save articles with theEvernote Web Clipper (choose “Simplified article”) and save it to a notebook. Batch reading of those articles during your leisure time or at the end of the day/week
- No Entry Zone: install StayFocusd, a chrome extension that lets you block specific websites for a set period of time
- Burn the Feeds: install a newsfeed burner on your computer on to block newsfeeds from social media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube. I use this one
- You’ve Got Mail: no checking email before 11 am. Spend the early morning hours performing Deep Work on critical work that moves the needle on your goals
- I’ve Gotta Break the Chain: unsubscribe emails from anything you don’t need, such as newsletters, groups, mailing lists, and notifications
- I Can See Clearly Now: at the end of the day, close all your tabs and programs, delete or move all the files from Downloads, empty the trash, and shut off your computer. By clearing to neutral you’re helping “future you” get started
- Breaking the Habit: carry your phone in a different pocket and instead put your wallet there. You’ll become aware of how many times you reach for your phone out of habit and muscle memory. Take those extra seconds to question if you really need to use your phone right now. When you get used to the new pocket, change it again
- Fly Me to the Moon: set your phone to airplane mode an hour before going to bed and only disable it after completing your morning routine. No more checking Facebook immediately after waking up or just before going to sleep. As a bonus, flight mode saves battery life
- Call Me Maybe: browse through your contact list and delete numbers you won’t need ever again
- Seek and Destroy: time to clean all the files you don’t need on your phone. The prime candidates are podcasts and music you don’t listen to anymore. Stream instead of downloading
- We’re Moving!: move all apps to the second screen and make your home screen empty. Now you have to form an intention to use a certain app and consciously swipe to the right and start it
- Don’t Push Me Down: remove all the notifications but phone calls and text message. Trust me, the world won’t come to an end. If it’s truly urgent, people will call. When you want to check something, open the app and do so. Don’t let the app control you to open it
- Unfollow the Leader: if it doesn’t interest, entertain, or inform you anymore it’s time to go. Our feeds are full of distracting posts from things we don’t need
- Friends Will Be Friends: unfriend people you’re not particularly close to on social media
Digital Detox Level 3: Black Belt Master
“Men’s natures are alike; it is their habits that separate them.” — Confucius
Congratulation on completing Level 2!
You are now ready for prime time. To become a Black Belt Master, we’ll re-wire your brain with new habits that will change your relationship with technology.
- We Have Screen Better Days: most programs offer full-screen mode, a perfect way to block out distractions. A simple tweak, but it works wonders
- Jurassic Mark: remove the bookmarks bar from your browser. Next time you want to browse reddit you’ll have to manually type it
- New Kid on the Block: use SelfControl to block websites for a specific time. You won’t be able to access those sites until the timer expires, even if you restart your computer or delete the application
- Oops!… I Grid It Again: turn your wi-fi off when you’re not using the internet. A little more extreme: get your router to automatically switch off at night
- Remains to Be Screen: limit yourself to one screen at a time. No more watching Netflix while browsing Instagram at the same time
- Reply and Demand: train other people to respect your productivity, work, and time by using an out-of-the-office automatic response. Long-term sustainable email productivity is about selective ignorance. Let people know you’re checking emails less often in order to be more productive
- Day-Z: go one full day without using your computer at all. Easiest ones? Weekends!
- Search Warrant: place the 4 most used apps on your dock at the bottom. Put everything else into a single folder. Now, use search. You can use spotlight not only to find apps but also content within them, like finding someone’s phone number by typing their name. Search is your new best friend
- Social Recall: remove all social media apps from your phone. Trust me, you’ll survive. Social media isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it’s definitely a bad habit
- Communication Breakdown: choose one single app to default all communications to (I prefer WhatsApp). Ask people to communicate with you only through that app
- I Miss You: always leave your phone in another room or in a drawer/backpack when working. Out of sight, out of mind
- Get Up, Stand Up: when you return home, place your phone in a central place of your house rather than carrying it around with you. Now you’ll have to get up if you need to check it
- A Room With a View: recharge your phone in another room. Not only will you sleep better as you won’t be distracted or woken by flashing lights
- Goodbye My Lover, Goodbye My Friend: leave your phone at home if you are going out to run errands, such as going to the supermarket or the post office
- Do Not Disturb: set an automatically scheduled Do Not Disturb mode after working hours so you can relax, such as from 8 PM to 8 AM
Digital Detox Level 4: Sensei Teacher
“What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the small man seeks is in others.” — Confucius
Well done on getting your digital detox Black Belt! Pat yourself on the back, you’re doing a fine job if I may say so.
You are now ready for the last step of this digital detox journey. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to understand the power of less.
- Thank Me Paper: make a conscious effort to rediscover paper and use it to replace tasks you do on your computer. Examples: to-do lists, goal setting, journaling, reading (go for books), calendar, shopping lists, draft presentations, and plan. Our minds process abstract information more effectively when we jot down our ideas on paper
- Star Tech: create no-tech zones in your house. Your bedroom is the easiest to start with, just remove all tech from it and ban technologies entering there (such as your phone). To go more extreme, make all your divisions but one tech-free. The easiest one to keep your tech is the living room and you’ll know you can use this part of your house for entertainment
- I Gots to Know: no going online to check non-work related information such as the name of a TV show or the year a song was released. Force yourself to wait at least 24 hours before going online. You’ll either remember it or forget about it altogether. Most of it won’t matter. Just because you can look it up doesn’t mean you have to
- An Offer You Can’t Remove: use fewer devices. Remove all tech that doesn’t add value. This could be your tablet, phone, computer, smartwatch, etc. You’ll know best
- Permanent Vacation: go tech-free on your next vacation. Don’t even take anything with you and use the time to relax and recharge batteries
- Sweet and Browser Sauce: disable the browser app. On the iPhone, go into Settings, turn “Restrictions” on and then you can turn off Safari. For Android, disable Chrome in App Settings
- Howl’s Moving Castle: disable email on your phone to stop checking it throughout the day. On the iPhone, you can delete your email account in Settings. For Android, you’ll need to disable the Gmail in App Settings
- All By Myself: no sense in having a profile in all the social platforms available. Keep only the ones that you love. Ideally, keep a single social network. If you want to go hardcore, delete your profiles (here’s how to remove Facebook). To be less extreme simply de-activate your account
- Just When I Thought I Was Out: to stop browsing your one social media on the browser of your phone, change your password to something impossible to remember (here’s a random password generator) and save it in a document or the cloud so you need to retrieve it every time. Then log out after each session. No excuses
- 50 Shades of Gray: convert your phone into black and white. On the iPhone, you’ll need to toggle the gray scale in settings. Androids have different methods so you’ll need to search for your specific model
- Singin’ in the Plane: keep your phone on airplane mode as default all day and only switch it off when you truly need to use it
Going Beyond This Digital Detox Guide
Uff, that was a long read. I’m glad you stuck around for this long and I hope it was worth it.
I know I said it before but I’ll say it again here: take these as suggestions, not rules. Apply the ones that make sense in your life and move on.
It’s utopian to believe we can remove all tech from our life. What we can do, however, is be conscious on how we use our tech. And that’s what a digital detox is about. It’s being more intentional with our technology so that we can use it for our own benefit, rather than get trapped by it.
With few adjustments, you’ll have more free time than ever, you’ll reduce your stress levels and generally be a happier human being.
After all, isn’t that what we are all looking for?
P.S. I just finished Parks & Rec, hence all gifs. I’m emotional. Don’t judge me.
Our lives have become tech-centric. It’s starting to “own” us. It’s time to seek ways to redesign our relationship with…medium.com
Here’s how I learned to have less by watching a flatmate living a minimalist life.medium.com
Work smarter, not harder. Here are the 10 lessons I’ve learned through trial and error and how you can incorporate them…medium.com
To simplify life, think subtraction, not addition. When you consistently question what you can remove, you design a…medium.com
“I think it is possible for ordinary people to choose to be extraordinary.” Productivity secrets from the biggest…medium.com