Mindfulness and “being present” are ultra trendy concepts right now. While neither of them is new, there has been a big push recently to “unplug” and reconnect with the world around you.
If you’re feeling like you spend too much time on your phone or computer, then a digital detox might be in order. You don’t have to go cold turkey and start turning off all of your tech at 9 p.m. every night, but there are small steps that you can take to create more space between your in-person life and your digital life.
Step One: Track Your Screen Time
I know that iPhones will already do this for you, and I’m sure that Android phones have a similar function. When you’re first starting your digital detox, just pay attention to the breakdown of how you spend time on your phone. How often are you checking your email? How long do you spend scrolling Facebook or Instagram? Do you spend more time watching TikToks or YouTube videos? All of this information can give you some great insight into where to start cutting back.
Once you have a good idea of where your screen time goes, you can start setting small, incremental goals for yourself. For example, you can aim to shave five minutes off of your social media scrolling every day. Then you can up that to eight or 10 minutes. Turning it into a game helps, too!
Another reason it’s good to have this kind of data in front of you is that it’s easy to dismiss just how much time you’re spending on the Instagram discover page. Realizing you’ve spent six hours that week looking at memes you can’t even remember and only 30 minutes using your workout app is pretty sobering.
Step Two: Figure Out Where You Can Go Analog
Yes, it’s convenient to be able to use your phone for an alarm clock, dictionary, calculator, and e-reader, but all of these functions can reinforce your habit of staying mindlessly glued to your screen.
If you’re serious about detoxing, start with small things like buying an actual alarm clock, keeping a real dictionary on your shelf, and actually using that Kindle you bought on Prime Day. They’re simple little changes, but they can help retrain your brain to not always reach for your phone first.
Step Three: Do a Digital Purge
App bloat is real! A few times a year, I’ll take some time to scroll through all of my apps. If I haven’t used them in the past month, I delete them. If I need them later, I can always re-download them.
Minimizing the number of distracting apps on your phone (games you rarely play, shopping apps you don’t use unless you’re bored, etc.) means fewer notifications and fewer reasons to pick up your phone out of boredom.
After you’ve deleted everything you don’t use, turn off the notifications for all but your most pertinent events. You don’t need to be pinged every time you get an email, Instagram like, or Facebook message. You can choose how (or if) your phone notifies you, so dialing that back as far as possible also gives you fewer excuses to pick up your phone to start scrolling.
App bloat is real! Minimizing the number of distracting apps on your phone means fewer notifications and fewer reasons to pick up your phone out of boredom.
Step Four: Make a Plan
The first three steps are in place to set you up for making a plan that you can stick to. Remember that the idea here is to make this a long-term lifestyle change! That means you should move slowly and make incremental steps that don’t feel too difficult for you.
Everyone’s plan will look a little different, but if you need some guidance, here’s a template to try.
No major changes. Simply keep track of your screen time. Note how often you check your email and socials. At the end of the week, look at how the data breaks down. Wherever you’re spending the majority of your time is where you should start!
Make a list of changes that you would like to implement, big or small. Pick one small change, and implement it. This could be only checking your email twice a day instead of several times, or it could be only responding to texts at certain times of the day. It could even be not taking your phone into the bathroom with you!
Build off the success of your first change! Pick another small change, and add it to the mix. You could ramp it up a little by deleting TikTok, for example, or taking the Amazon app off your phone so you can’t impulse shop as easily.
Continue to try making one change per week until you’ve gotten through your entire list! You’ve got this.
If you’re struggling, don’t add more steps until you can master the first changes. You can go as slowly as you need to! As you celebrate little victories, you’ll find that it’s easier to make more changes. You’ll probably even notice that your desire to pick up your phone diminishes as you get better about limiting your screen time. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to forget where you set your phone because you’ve gone so long without checking it!
You Don’t Have to Go Digital Cold Turkey
Your digital detox doesn’t have to be permanent if you don’t want it to be, but it can be helpful to clean up your digital habits periodically so that you don’t lose tons of time to needless scrolling and app-checking. You’ll almost always end up regretting that lost time later, so try following the plan I’ve laid out for a short-term (or long-term!) digital detox.