What I Learned From a Day Unplugged

What I Learned From a Day Unplugged

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Christine Lu
Mar 21, 2015
(Image credit: Pablo Enriquez)

I don't consider myself addicted to my phone, but recently I've noticed some bad habits — like going for it as soon as I wake up to check social media, checking my email while I'm in car at a stoplight (I know, I know!), or checking my phone for one particular reason and then going down a rabbit trail that keeps me on my phone for way too long. For the purpose of resetting bad habits, I decided to take a day offline and unplug. Here's what I learned:

These were the rules: no internet, no social media, no email, no websites. I also decided to avoid my laptop altogether and my phone, unless it was necessary for actual calls or texts. Even though I could have used my laptop for writing in Word or editing photos as long as I stayed off the internet, I didn't want the temptation, and wanted to try to avoid technology where I was able. That also meant reading a book instead of using the Kindle app on my phone, and using pen and paper to write to-do lists and notes (like for this article!) instead of my notepad app or a Word document.

So that we're clear, I love technology. I love the convenience and the access to vast resources it offers, but I also believe that like anything else, not being mindful of our use could lead to habits that distract from what is important. Like anything else, I want to be able to use this resource well.

I went into my day offline with a plan: I made a list of things that needed to get done around the house so that I could stay busy, resolved to take care of a bunch of errands, and got out a book I've been meaning to read. My day looked like this:

8:00 am - Usually I wake up to the usual circuit: Instagram, Gmail, and Facebook (and I justify this by reasoning that this helps me wake up) but this particular morning, I walked right by my phone and started getting ready for the day.

9:00 am- Something I noticed right away was that I apparently have a weather-checking obsession that I wasn't aware of. Within the first hour, what I wanted to check most was the weather; I realized I must check the weather throughout the day, all day long. I also realized that one of the main reasons I check my phone is to see what time it is, which then usual spirals into more time on my phone checking the social media circuits.

10:00 am- I had all these questions that I wanted to Google: What does Queen's lace look like? How much is a pack of mason jars on Amazon? What is an easy recipe for sour cream cake? What time does the library open tomorrow? Every time I had a thought for a to-do list item (not just for that day, but the next day and following week), I wanted to do some follow-up research on it, and it was like a nervous tick that I had to calm down. There is no rush, I told myself. I wrote these down and moved on.

11:00 am - At the grocery store, I pulled out my grocery list in my notebook instead of my phone and felt a great sense of satisfaction about using my notebook (I love any opportunity to write with pen and paper). At the same time, I couldn't help realize that using my phone for all my notes was so much more convenient because that meant I didn't have to carry around a notebook and pen around with me everywhere.

12:00 pm- I decided I needed a watch and bought one! I am not usually a watch-wearer, but over the past few months I had been feeling more and more like I would like to lessen my dependence on my phone. Especially when I realized that my daughter (who is 2 and a half) was watching me constantly check my phone - even if it was just for the time - and that she was imitating me doing that when she played with her toys.

1:00 pm- Speaking of my daughter, being free from being dependent on my phone and feeling like I needed to check or look up this or that, I was less distracted and was able to be more present and patient with her. I fully focused on her while we read books together before her nap.

1:30pm - After a busy morning, I felt the itch to check my phone to 'relax' but jumped into my list of other activities instead.

6:00 pm - I spent the afternoon cleaning and reading, and spending time with my daughter when she woke up from her nap, and realized it had been hours since I had even thought about going online.

7:00 pm - I ended up making a list of things that I needed to do online the next day. This seemed bizarre at first, but I realized that this was actually going to help me focus on what I actually needed to get done when I was online and that it could prevent pointless meandering throughout the world wide web.

8:00 pm - I felt satisfied about how much I had accomplished that day and spent the rest of the evening relaxing by reading and writing... without the usual distraction. It felt good to rest by truly relaxing and unwinding, instead of feeling to constantly check in to social media to see if I was missing something. Having a game plan of getting tasks done around the house was really helpful, and so was consciously giving myself permission to relax and read for fun. I ended up finishing that book, had gotten some major spring cleaning done and had spent the day enjoying my family without the distraction of my phone.

Since that day, along with being plugged back in, I've made a conscious effort to check in with myself, to check my bad habits and to give myself redirection and permission to do things that I truly enjoy and that help me feel rested when I am relaxing. I've also implemented a few other things that make me feel unplugged without actually unplugging.

If you are in a similar place with wanting to reset your technology ticks, these ideas may be helpful for you as well:

1. Make your bedroom or bed a no-phone zone.

Resolve to not use your phone when you are in your bedroom. Designate that place just for sleeping, reading, resting or talking and you will be surprised at how much more relaxed you feel when you spend time in that space. If that seems improbable, make just your bed a no-phone zone and don't bring your phone into bed with you. This will help you get some distance from your device and give you some breathing room as you unwind from your day.

2. Designate a no-phone time.

When I get home from work, I put my phone away and try not to check it until my daughter goes down to bed. That way, I can fully focus my attention on dinner and spending time with my family without the constant interruption of the phone.

3. Clean out your phone.

Just as cleaning and organizing your physical surroundings can give you clarity, organizing your phone can do a similar thing. Go through your phone occasionally to sort through apps that you use often and don't use at all, and get rid of the apps that are cluttering up your phone.

4. Do keep the apps that are helpful.

Make sure the apps that you do keep around are beneficial to you. If that game is causing you to lose hours of time, consider getting rid of it. If you use your phone for to-do lists and a lot of administrative tasks, use an app like Evernote or Swipes to centralize those tasks and streamline your activity.

5. Limit your notifications.

If you are bombarded with notifications all day, try changing your settings on your email and social networks (if not all, some of them) so that they don't pop up every time something happens. That way, you can regain control of when you check your phone, instead of feeling obligated to pick it up every time it dings.

6. Plan what you actually need to do when you get online.

Surprisingly, this has been really helpful in allocating my time more efficiently. When I just wander on to the internet with a vague sense of what I need to get done, I find hours have gone by and I haven't actually even gotten to the important things. If I make a list of the things I need to do — order those diapers, look up recipe to meal plan, look up the band my sister has been telling me about, respond to two emails — I find that it's a much better use of my time online.

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