I’ve just started leading a 6-week digital detox course that helps people take control of their behaviour online. One thing that amazes me is how little we know about where our time is going when we’re connected.
About 50 participants who signed up for the course were asked to make a guess: how much time, daily, did they spend online? They were then given a little test measuring their daily activities to see how much time they really spend online. Although this is not the most precise test since it solely relies on personal feedback from participants, its results are quite impressive.
It turns out, on average, a person who took the test spends about 8.7 hours or 520 minutes online daily, whereas they think they spend 6.6 hours, or about 400 minutes. Because people also tend to underestimate how much time they spend on each particular activity, it’s likely that the real time they're connected is even higher. Bear in mind that we are are not talking about internet addicts, but the most normal people who use technology on a daily basis.
So there are about two hours of difference between what we think we do and what we actually do. It’s two hours a day of your time on average that you have no control over. That’s about 30 days, or one month per year. Think about it: for one month per year you have no idea what you are doing! Isn’t it scary?
Do you often complain that you don’t have time to do something that’s interesting or important to you? This is where your time is going.
Again, this is not the most precise test, and you may want to install various apps across your devices to track exactly how much time you spend – RescueTime or Yast are good examples. But it's the concept that's so important. Just take a moment to contemplate:
What would you do if you had two extra hours a day?
What would you do if you had one extra month a year?
Would you perhaps go travelling somewhere? Or read as many books as you want? Or learn a new language?
Isn’t your dream worth taking control over your life?
Think about it as you are browsing through yet another blog post.
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Do you find yourself browsing through Facebook or Instagram (yet again) instead of working? Does your mailbox look like it will take a couple of years to answer all those senders? Do you get irritated by colleagues or friends staring at their mobiles in a meeting, and yet find yourself doing exactly that?
It might be time to declutter your digital life (you can take this little test to check how addicted you are).
I’m going to share with you a simple framework that will help you structure your digital detox. Mix and match these three key principles to design your ideal digital detox - time management, space management and self-management.
Time management means establishing a certain timeframe around your digital activities. This allows you to be proactive, rather than reactive, and have control over your agenda. This is especially helpful to manage your emails.
The best thing to do with emails is to check them at a specific time during the day, and never ever first thing in the morning. Don’t keep your mailbox open all the time with notifications on. Multitasking is a big myth that has now been debunked by science. When we get distracted by one thing, it takes our brain some time to concentrate on the previous task, and the more we get distracted, the more time it needs to resume. So unless you do both things unconsciously, you cannot multitask – and you really don’t want to read your business emails unconsciously!
The same thing with multi-screening (i.e. using phone/laptop/iPad simultaneously) or opening several tabs in your internet browser at once. Unless you absolutely need to have several screens/tabs opened for one particular task, keep only one to avoid distraction! If you suddenly have the most brilliant idea about a different subject while working on something else, do not rush to open another tab and check it online. Instead, write your idea on a piece of paper and get back to it once you’ve finished the first bit.
The key idea of time management is that you take control over your time, and decide when to respond, rather than being dragged into communication when you need to do something else. So unless you are waiting for an absolutely vital call or email (and vital things really should NOT be communicated by email anyway), try to resist looking at your phone immediately after a notification/message comes in. Delay checking it for 30 seconds, then for 2 minutes, then for 5, 10 – and watch your reaction. This will give you an instant sense of control over your life. Build up your practice over time, and you'll discover that your productivity has increased!
Another way to increase your productivity is to switch off altogether for at least an hour every day during a particular time or activity. This is what Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, does during his dinner time. You could also try to go to a friends’ party and leave your phone in your coat by the entrance – and check what it feels like to be fully present with people you care about just for an hour.
If you tend to work late, try setting up a particular "finishing time" and create a little routine around switching off your devices around that time. Make it as formal as possible. Our brain loves rituals and if you introduce one, it will be so much easier for you to stick to your routine. For instance, if you work with a laptop, you can symbolically put it at a particular time in the drawer, close it with the key and walk around it three times before switching off the office lights. Might sound silly, but it's very helpful for your brain to unplug.
When introducing time management, it’s really important to remember to manage expectations of others. If a client or your boss are expecting you to be online 24/7, you need to set up the boundaries around that and tell them when you are going to be available, and when not. Do not unplug without telling them anything – although it sounds reasonable, you’ll be surprised how many people think other people have the same digital behaviour expectations as they do, and get problems because of miscommunication.
To boost your digital detox, put boundaries around where you use technology. For instance, no technology is allowed into my kitchen – this way I am resisting to look at the screen when I’m eating. In some companies, when meetings are happening, all participants are asked to stack their mobile phones face down one on top of the other at the table, so that nobody gets distracted. It’s a great idea to have a “technology free” zone in your office, where conversations can happen and creativity is more likely to flourish.
Do not keep your phone or computer near your bed if you want to cut off your digital consumption (which means you have to get a proper alarm clock – try that, it’s fun!) If you do, it’s inevitable that you end up online much more than you anticipated. Our will power resource is very limited, and you can't only rely on it to resist the temptation to check your friends' feed. The best way not to eat too much chocolate is not to keep it at home, and especially in your bedroom. The best way not to spend hours browsing is not to have your device near you, especially when you are half-conscious because you are almost asleep.
Perhaps something that will motivate you keep your iPad outside your bedroom is a piece of research that shows that the couples who keep iPads in their bedrooms tend to have no or very little sex – so if you want to have a proper love life, leave your devices far from your bed!
An average person checks her phone about 150 times per day. How many of them does she actually need to check it?
We often check our emails or social networks not when we really need to look at them, but when we want to escape from negative feelings. Scientists have shown that people who have traits of depression tend to spend more time reading emails and watching online videos than an average person. So when you are reaching out to check your email again, stop yourself for a second and be honest about the real reason you are doing this. Do you just feel lonely and want to check if somebody needs you? Is there a better way to satisfy this need, perhaps by calling a friend?
Self-management is useful to take conscious breaks from working on the computer. An average human being is able to concentrate on a particular task for about 40 minutes, and after that his attention gets distracted. So do incorporate 5-minute breaks into your daily digital routine – stand up, go talk to colleagues, drink some tea – it’s important that you switch to something completely different.
Mindfulness/meditation practice and/or any form of physical activity also can help a great deal to self-manage your digital behaviour, because they tend to keep you in the present moment. So next time you feel you are getting overloaded by information, it might be a good idea to do 10 squats, or close your eyes for a couple of minutes and concentrate on your breath and body sensations. The urge to check what’s new online will fade away.
Do you feel like doing a proper digital detox?
The next 6-weeks online digital detox course to help you declutter your digital life is starting on the 10th August. Early bird price available until the 25th July, so sign up now to save some money!
Looking for practical tips on a balanced digital lifestyle?
Dr Anastasia Dedyukhina is a keynote speaker, author of Homo Distractus, professional coach and a pioneer of the Consciously Digital™ concept.