Is It Time for a Digital Detox?

Over-work and too much stress are pretty much the norm for most association executives. Every day, we’re trying to do a lot for our members, and most associations are perpetually understaffed and tight on budget.

This makes a digital detox sound like a really great idea.

“Yeah! I’m going to slip that electronic leash, at least for a little while!” you might be thinking.

And EVERYONE seems to have advice about how to do it.

But what actually works?

I’m so glad you asked!

Here’s what I’ve found works for me in trying to tame the technology beast and keep some level of balance in my life.

Delete social apps from your phone.This is probably the hardest one to do, but may be the most important. One of the reasons we feel so stressed by technology is that it’s a constant presence and distraction. Spaces in our lives that used to be filled with space (waiting for the bus, standing in line, waiting for the kids to finish soccer practice or to pick up your spouse from the train) are now filled with scrolling Twitter, Facebook feeds, and Instagram posts. There’s a boatload of studies that demonstrate that the more time you spend on social media, the worse you feel about yourself and your life. Next time you’re waiting for the bus, resist the urge to pull out your phone. Observe the world around you. Think. Maybe chat to the person next to you. Breathe. Leave a little room in your life.

Turn off notifications for just about everything.This one’s tough, too, but the only notifications I get on my phone are calls and texts. The only notifications I get on my computer are 10 minute reminders for appointments – I’ve even turned off new email alerts (and since I work for myself, I don’t have to worry about things like Slack, so your mileage on that may vary). This is very much the Pavlov’s dog thing. When you’re being alerted to every little change in every app and program, your entire life becomes a constant stream of interruptions. No wonder you feel stressed out!

Charge your phone outside your bedroom, and relatedly, get a real alarm clock(so you aren’t dependent on your phone to wake you up). Ending your day in front of a screen is bad for your circadian rhythms and sleep patterns, and starting the day with your unread emails makes you feel behind before you’ve even gotten out of bed.  Keep screens out of your bedroom – it should be a restful sanctuary for you, not another extension of your office.

Subscribe to a print newspaper, and read it over breakfast. Don’t start your day with a screen. I know this marks me as a Luddite, a curmudgeon, or both, but I still get my news in print. I believe in supporting the work of a free press, of course, but I also find that, even if it’s the newspaper’s own website, when I read it on my computer or a tablet, I’m much more likely to only skim the first paragraph and move on. There are a lot of important things going on in the world. Take a few minutes every day to learn about them.

Pick a nightly stop time for email.It doesn’t have to be the minute you leave the office, but it shouldn’t be your bedtime, either. You’re not an obstetrician, and you don’t hold the nuclear codes. If your boss – or your board chair – has to wait until tomorrow morning for a response to her email, the world will not end. And if you ARE the boss – or the board chair – you can create a more positive culture for your entire organization by resisting the urge to fire off an email at midnight or 5 am just to get whatever it was that just occurred to you onto someone else’s to do list.

Read books.Blog posts, online articles, and print magazines are all great. But books make you think about big ideas over longer periods of time, or immerse you in other worlds (in other words, don’t just read the latest business best seller). I will confess to having an e-reader, but it is JUST an e-reader. It doesn’t do anything else – no social media, no games, no Internet browser. Just a WHOLE LOT Of books in a relatively tiny package.

Plenty of people do a tech-free day weekly, and that doesn’t quite work for me (I do, after all, run my own business, and it is just me), but when I’m around the house on weekends, I don’t keep my phone on me. It (and my laptop) stay in my office unless I specifically need them for something.

It all comes down to this: Your technology should serve you, not the other way around. Some of these ideas might work for you, and some might not. You might have other really good practices that work better (and if you do, please share them in the comments). But if you are feeling bossed around by your smartphone, I strong encourage you to experiment with a few of these, even if it feels a little scary, and see how it changes your life and your relationship with your gadgets, hopefully for the better.