7 Simple Steps to a Digital Detox

digital detoxDo you sleep with the phone next to your bed?

Or worse, on or under your pillow with it pinging or vibrating with every text, Tweet, or notification?

Do you feel insecure if your device isn’t nearby or on your person?

If you say yes, to any of these queries, maybe it’s time for a digital detox.

If we are going to preach to our kids to be less dependent on technology in their daily life, to limit their screen time, then we should model balanced digital habits ourselves. To help with that, here are seven simple steps for a digital detox with no FOMO.

FOMO or the “Fear Of Missing Out,” as Dr. Jennifer Shapka of the University of British Columbia defined it, is the “fear that others elsewhere are having more fun, or that you are missing out on a rewarding experience. It can lead to feelings of anxiety, envy, insecurity, and loneliness.” 

FOMO is something our kids feel every day. So many of my students come to me in the mornings to borrow device chargers because they fell asleep with their phones on the pillow next to them, not plugged in, but now, not wanting to miss a single Snap, text, or Tweet, they need a charge. They worry that if they’re not posting a selfie about their life, they’re not living their best life. Sometimes we grownups feel the same thing!

Taking a digital detox, or at least adopting a few new mindful tech techniques, can be a healthy step forward. 

Step 1

Buy an alarm clock. Cell phones are not cuddly teddy bears, yet some people sleep with them – in their beds, some in their hands!

I did a very unscientific Twitter poll, and I asked my Education Personal Learning Network (PLN) friends if they sleep with their phones and was surprised by the many responses.

Suzie Martin @librarynbct, a Nationally Board Certified Educator in West Virginia says, “Mostly I lay it on my abdomen if I sleep on my back. Otherwise, it’s clutched in my hand.” Middle School Teacher Librarian Sarah Russo @librelearning says, “I sometimes sleep with it underneath my pillow….it’s what happens when I read on my phone and fall asleep!”

Most of those that chimed in, said they sleep with it next to them and use it for their main wake-up alarm.

Since I don’t have a landline, for safety’s sake, I do have my phone nearby. I keep my iPhone bedside, face down, with Do Not Disturb scheduled from 9pm to 6am, Night Shift activated. I don’t use it as my main alarm, and only allow calls from my favorites which include my family, my media assistant, and my admin.

But let’s face it, alarm clocks are cheap. So why not also give yourself 10 to 20 minutes, or even an hour, to ignore your devices as you get ready for the day with less stress? Get up, get dressed, have coffee, watch morning news, and maybe check your device only right before you step out your door. Start the day on your own terms, without worrying about the latest text, Tweet, push, or post.

Step 2

I have a lot Apps that I don’t use. Every time I go to an EdTech or Library conference, read a cool blog post, or participate in a Twitter chat and hear about a neat new App, I invariably download it and never use it.

If you haven’t opened an App lately, delete it. Not only will it simplify your life, but it will make your device work faster and better. You can always re-install it from the cloud or App Store later if you should discover it’s really necessary. But I’m going to bet you won’t miss it. Bye bye Flappy Bird, Trivia Crack, and Candy Crush and hello HQ Trivia!

Step 3

Download more than a few apps and push notifications become a constant, badgering, beeping, buzzing, swooshing bit of nonsense. I don’t need to know at 2am the latest political storm, that my Instagram video was viewed over 160 times, or which Real Housewife was just caught being naughty in Palm Beach.

Stop the noise.  Get your news on your own terms and when you want it, not when the app decides you need it. Sadly, neither iOS nor Android offers a fast way to turn off all notifications at once. In both cases, you have to tap into your Settings, then go app-by-app to turn them off. It’s kind of a pain, but completely worthwhile.

While we’re at it, now that you’re not following every step an App takes, why not thin out the din of your Social Media herd? I consider Social Media as a conversation and if someone isn’t listening or contributing (they haven’t posted in six months) – what do they bring to my party?

One of my respected colleagues online, Brent Warner, Professor of ESL and Proprietor of @EdTechTV says “We should take it upon ourselves to follow people who provide high quality insights and ideas in teaching and education. In turn, we should commit ourselves to providing the same through our own feeds. I see no problem with teachers who want to grow their online presence, but following people with an ulterior motive such as expecting a follow-back does everybody a disservice.”

I don’t just follow back everyone who follows me. I follow people who share original content, engage, contribute, and who interact – just like at a conference or a dinner party. We all learn together!

Step 4

When I’m out to dinner and I see a family around a table, all on their devices and not talking with each other, it kind of makes me sad. This has been a big thing with my family, to not have our devices out at the dinner table both at home and out at a restaurant.

Why not negotiate this? Talk it out and make a deal, one that everyone can live with, when it comes to a digital free dinner. Maybe let everyone check their devices until the server comes to the table to take orders, but after that, all phones are put away so dining together will be a more sociable occasion. Why not try ‘phone stacking’ in a restaurant or at a family meal? Everyone puts the device in the middle of the table, and the first person who reaches for their device has to buy the next round, pick up the check, clear the table, or just get teased. Whatever combination works for you, when you’re all together, BE together.

Step 5

If you’re working out or or just working, getting interrupted can be jarring and unproductive. When you turn on Airplane mode, not only are you saving battery life, but you can fully focus on your workout and not your social networks. Plus, you can still listen to your music and playlists.

Do you want to enjoy Netflix or stream shows while you work out? Turn on “Do not disturb” by tapping on the little crescent moon icon on an iPhone. it’s good not to get snapped out of your work or your workout with notifications.

Step 6

Consider scheduling some regular tech free time. This doesn’t mean sitting in a dark room meditating or a visit to an Ashram – but that’s an option!

But why not choose to spend time out in nature, reading a book, going to a museum, farmer’s market, or doing an activity that’s not connected to technology? I often sit out in nature and read a book for hours.

Liz Zinger, @liz_zinger, our Murray Hill Middle School Math Instructional Team Leader, says that she often puts her devices “in a drawer” on weekends or on holiday, so that she’s fully in the moment and not distracted by notifications.

Set yourself up for success by choosing a time period for your Digital Detox. Whether it’s just a Saturday, a Sunday, a weekend, or a whole vacation – just challenge yourself and choose a length of time and stick with it. But also, be reasonable. Some of you may need your phone for music, or an iPad or Kindle to read. That’s ok! But if you’re using your device, manage distractions by going on Airplane or Do Not Disturb mode the whole time and forgive yourself if you backslide. Schedule time (like an hour) in the middle of the vacation to check your work emails and respond. Whether you go cold turkey or just start “baby steppin’,” taking away a wee bit of screen time and enjoying some authentic real time can only be beneficial.

Step 7

Mindfulness is a big new thing, or maybe the terminology is new but the action is age old. Savor the moment. Be present in your present. Because sometimes we need to disconnect to reconnect with what is important in life. In this busy, hyper-connected world we live, in it’s all too easy to lose ourselves in autopilot for much of the day or even every day.

Social media is a constant challenge to mindfulness. Using your phone, camera or social media in your daily activities can sometimes take away from the full experience of the present. Take pictures of the great places you’re visiting or the cool things that happen, catch the beautiful sunset, the cute puppy face, perfect yoga pose, or Mom’s classic lasagna, and post them all later. Wait until after the moment in a downtime. Still sharing, but not distracted. Not pulled out of the magical moment of right now.

By giving ourselves permission to unplug from the noisy planet, the social swirl, or the digital daze, we can reevaluate our path, take stock in life, strengthen our relationships, and move forward with a sense of purpose and belonging. Deciding on a digital detox, mapping and practicing mindfulness can only be a good thing, but it’s your decision. Tweet or Instagram me what you think! Just kidding. Really, not really.

@GwynethJones, a.k.a. The Daring Librarian, is a blogger, a Tweeter, an International Ed Tech keynote speaker, Google Certified Innovator, PBS Graduate Champion of Change, and the author of the award-winning Daring Librarian blog. Gwyneth also is a career long NEA member and the teacher librarian at Murray Hill Middle School in Howard County, Md.