As I wrote here earlier, I tried something new recently: when we went our long weekend trip to Belgium with my family, I did a little “digital detox”, meaning I took a break from emails and social media for the four days we spent there.
My little unplugging exercise was made easy by the beautiful vacation home we rented - if you ever make it to the small town of Ronse in Western Belgium (close to the French border, and about an hour away from Brussels), I highly recommend this property! It’s called Le Zen and consists of three separate houses, centered around a natural pool and little pool house, complete with a wood-fired sauna. It’s an amazingly quiet and calm space, surrounded by woods and green spaces.
Anyway, I really enjoyed my little digital detox, and have actually taken some steps to reduce my social media addiction afterwards, so I thought I’d share my approach and how it all went!
If you, like me, have never really consciously done a digital detox before, it makes sense to take a couple of steps to prepare. These can be different depending on the level of detox you’re after - if you want to completely detach, just turn off your phone or turn off the internet access. I wanted to be available on the phone for emergencies, and use it to listed to music via Spotify. So here are the steps I took to prepare:
- Turn on out-of-office notifications. I do this at work whenever I’m on vacation, but this time I activated my automatic replies for my blog email as well. I usually don’t respond to every blog email on the same day anyway, but I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t feel the need to check if something important or critical had come in.
- Turn off notifications. Since I was going to have internet access on my phone, I wanted to make sure I didn’t get distracted by lock-screen notifications and the little red bubbles in the corner of the apps. To turn off notifications on the iPhone, go into the settings and select “Notifications” - here, you can adjust what notifications you get for every individual app.
- Note anything important on paper. If you have any important dates or to-do’s to remember, write them down on paper, so you won’t need your phone or computer to remind you.
- If possible, leave it behind. I deliberately didn’t bring my laptop on the trip - this was kind of a no-brainer. I wasn’t able to leave my phone, because I’d be traveling and would need to coordinate with people here and there. My point is, leave behind what you can.
- Take enough non-digital entertainment with you. We brought board games, prepared a trivia quiz, brought a guitar and song lyrics, and I brought my crossword puzzles and loaded up my Kindle with new books to read. Yes, I know, my Kindle is technically not really “non-digital”, but it doesn’t have internet access and all I do with it is read books (my model doesn’t enable video or the like, it’s just an e-reader).
How did it go?
Really well, actually! Much better than I thought it would.
Yes, I did absentmindedly open Facebook once to show someone a picture, but caught myself and didn’t check my notifications. I also had to open my email to find the check-in reminder link for my flight back, but I deliberately ignored the 30-something unread emails that had accumulated. And it felt good!
I had also allowed myself music and podcasts, so when we spontaneously had to take a 2.5 hour train ride instead of getting picked up at the airport, I passed time with that - same on the two short flights there and back.
My key learning: I didn’t really miss anything! Apart from one instance - I had posted a picture on Instagram Thursday morning before the flight announcing my digital absence - I didn’t really stop and think, “boy, I wonder how many likes I’ve gotten/ what’s trending on Twitter/ who’s checked in where on Facebook” or anything like that. I spent time with my family, read a great book, played board games, used the sauna, did yoga, and enjoyed delicious meals around the family table. I didn’t miss a thing!
I learned a great deal during my four “unplugged” days - much more, actually, than I thought I would. And so I’ve decided to make the following four changes from now on, in the hopes of taking some of the lessons learned with me:
- No phone in the bedroom. My phone was the last thing I looked at before I went to sleep, and the first thing I picked up after I woke up. I really don’t need to check Twitter or Instagram at 6:32am! It’s actually a much better start to the day if I just take some time to wake up, do my morning routine, and get ready for the day. So I banned my phone from my bedroom - it’s now charging overnight in the living room.
- No phone during dinner. I actually want to enjoy my food and have a conversation with my fellow diner(s), so the phone is banned from the dinner table from now on!
- No phone with friends/ family. I hate to admit that I was that friend who always had their phone lying on the table next to their coffee cup. And we all know how easy it is to get distracted by that “ping” or buzzing, notifying us that someone liked our status, or retweeted our tweet, or commented on our Instagram picture, or sent us a Snapchat - you name it. So now my phone stays in my purse, unless I want to snap a quick picture of something, or there’s some other valid reason for it. Then it goes back in the purse. It’s a sad state of affairs that I have to actually make that a rule - this should really go without saying!
- Notifications off. When my digital detox was over, I actually decided not to turn notifications back on - for most apps. I did for emails and messenger apps, because I want to be available. I left them off for all social media, though. I read a quote in Ariana Huffington’s book, “Thrive“, that says something along the lines of, “you should decide when you want the information, not the other way around“. Turning off notifications means that you won’t be pressured by the little red bubbles anymore.
Have you ever done a digital detox? How did it go, and what are your tips for a successful offline experience? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!