We're finding it tougher than ever to switch off. Find out how to get the balance right...
finding it harder than ever to switch off. The average Brit checks their phone 200 times a day, i.e. once every seven minutes, spending 25 hours a week online. Technology may have made our lives easier, but it’s also a double-edged sword, with work emails pinging their way onto our mobile phones and tablets at all hours of the day and night, and Facebook, Twitter and Instagram turning us into digital junkies.
It takes the average adult 20 minutes to regain focus following a single interruption. If you’re anything like the average phone-checker, this means you’re likely to be performing at sub-optimal levels at all times! You might feel compelled to make frequent checks of your inbox for urgent’ emails, but cutting back could boost your productivity several times over.
A quarter of us spend more time online than we do in bed – and, when we do make it under the covers we’re now more likely to be accompanied by a phone or tablet than a partner! Technology can be a lifeline – in fact, research has found that using social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter several times a day, sending and receiving plenty of emails and regularly sharing digital images could reduce your stress levels by a fifth. However, technology and social media use has also been linked with anxiety and depression, so it’s important to learn how to get the balance right.
Three-quarters of us think we’d struggle to go 24 hours without checking our phone or computer. Of course, these same people are the ones with the most to gain from a digital detox… So if the idea of switching off your laptop in the evening or leaving your phone outside the bedroom at night fills you with dread, it’s time to get tough with yourself…
If you can bear it, experts recommend starting with a 24-72 hour detox. Update your Facebook status, turn on automated email responses, then switch off all internet-connected devices (computers, phones and tablets). Hide them away if possible. Even better, go away for the weekend and leave them at home! Try to swap screen time for more mindful activities - it’s the perfect time to take a yoga or meditation class, start journalling, or simply make the most of the opportunity to kick back with a good book. Take a tip from the Danes and go for plenty of walks, meet friends for coffee (making sure you explain what you’re up to in advance and politely asking them to keep their own phones in their bags whilst you’re together!) and enjoy some cosy meals with your partner or family. Does life look, feel or taste different when you’re not viewing it through the lens of your iPhone?
You might like to repeat this total tech detox for a day or two each week or month, or simply decide to leave your phone at home whenever you take a holiday.
Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you become a born-again digital refusenik. But, now you’ve had a chance to experience the benefits of detoxing, it’s time to find a way to integrate them into everyday life - balance is everything, after all. If you establish a maximum daily time allowance for your devices, then you will be more likely to stick to your detox, says Technology Addiction Specialist Dr. Richard Graham.
If you couldn’t quite face a 24-hour detox, why not incorporate a mini detox into your daily routine? Make a pact with yourself not to check your phone, tablet or computer before 9.30am and/or after 9.30pm, for example.
An empty jam jar can become a digital swear jar’ - each time you catch yourself checking your phone or computer during detox time, a pound goes in… If you can, get your partner and/or family involved, too.
Pick a new place or time from which to eliminate technology each week, e.g. during your lunch break or commute, at the dinner table, whilst out running or at the gym, or in the bedroom. Eating more mindfully will allow you to reap more enjoyment from meals and could boost weight loss, whilst an unplugged’ workout can double up as a meditation session! Keeping phones, tablets and computers out of the bedroom, meanwhile, should encourage sounder sleep. No excuses now - buy an analogue alarm clock.
You might not be able to pack your laptop or phone away during your working day, but putting the brakes on your email and social media usage could still pay dividends… Tackle one habit (e.g. email checking, Facebook use) at a time, focusing on it for a week before moving onto the next. If you check your emails too frequently, try removing the email app from your phone, or setting them to download every hour or two, rather than immediately. Set limits, e.g. checking every 2 hours. Programs like Cold Turkey (available for Windows, Mac and mobile devices) can help by temporarily blocking your access to certain websites.
But the birthday of your best friend/second cousin three times removed/aunt’s dog falls during detox weekend! Pick up the phone and say, Happy Birthday instead of writing a wall post. Or you could even *gasp* send a card… In a virtual world, cards and calls beat Tweets and texts any day.
Social media can keep us connected or overwhelm us completely. Get the balance right by spending more time connecting with genuine friends and loved ones, commenting, sharing and uploading images, and less scrolling the feeds of ex-partners, friends of friends and celebrities. Why not make a friend cull’ part of a regular monthly or annual detox? Don’t forget to make sure you save a special place in your feed for us, of course…