The internet is littered with articles about how to unplug from technology, but the recommendations are often fairly extreme. Suggestions like only checking your email inbox at lunch, leaving your phone at home when you go on vacation, deactivating your Facebook account or ditching the smartphone altogether ring hollow for most of us.
When youre working in a different time zone from your boss, youre likely expected to stay on top of email. When youre away from home, your smartphone is the best way for the dog boarding facility or your mother to get in touch with you. Plus, it houses the camera you use to capture memories. Not being connected or going back to a basic cell phone is not how real life works at all.
Extreme tactics make it tempting to discount any suggestions for unplugging as impractical and unrealistic. But it is important to make sure your smartphone and technology doesnt rule your life. Being too connected can make you less productive, more tired and can impact the quality of your relationships.
So how can you minimize the detrimental effects of constant connectivity while benefitting from the convenience it provides? Here are 5 practical ways to unplug from technology:
- Start small: Get used to the idea that you wont really miss being connected all the time by giving it a try in small doses. Keep electronics out of the bedroom if you want to sleep soundly. As Arianna Huffington advises in this New York Times interview, Putting the phone — putting the distraction — away from the bedroom is critical. If you feel like you need to check your email the second you open your eyes Monday-Friday, fine. But dont let the habit creep into your weekends. Every Sunday morning, wait a full hour after waking up to check your phone. Instead, cook a real breakfast, go for a walk, do some stretching or pick up a paperback. See how you feel.
- Manage your notifications: Constantly seeing little bubbles pop up at the top of every app is enough to make anyone feel crazy. These alerts can wait. Dont allow notifications from any of your apps, turn off background refreshing and silence calls and text messages except for those from certain contacts, like your childs school.
- Be intentional about social media: Delete the Facebook and Twitter apps from your phone. No, that doesnt mean deactivate altogether. Just minimize the pull to mindlessly scroll, scroll, scroll while youre waiting for a meeting to start, at the dinner table, or even (gasp) sitting in traffic. Thanks to algorithms that rank what you see based on perceived importance rather than when it was posted, you wont miss anything major if you wait until youre behind a desk to check in on your friends and family.
- Consider paper: Theres no denying the brilliance of scheduling apps and calendars that connect with your computer as a way to keep your life on track. But dont underestimate what a paper planner can do. Get a bullet journal if you want to try out the latest trend or jot down your to-do lists on a Post-it. The act of writing can be calming and as a bonus, it helps you remember things better.
- Replace time online with other things: When youre trying to overhaul your physical health, experts often recommend a focus on adding certain foods rather than removing others. The theory is that if you make it a goal to eat tons of protein and vegetables every day, you wont have room left for empty carbs or sugar. Think of your time the same way. Rather than challenging yourself to spend less time online, challenge yourself to swim three times a week, read 25 pages of a novel every night or take up a new hands-on hobby such as knitting or woodworking.
Laptops and smartphones help us all keep our lives running efficiently. But with a bit of mindfulness, we can make sure we are the ones running our lives via technology rather than the other way around.