We are more on than ever before. The boss that sends the ‘urgent’ text at 11:00 p.m. The irresistible pull of scrolling Instagram™ before our eyes have fully released the blur of first consciousness. The non-stop emails, most of which are irrelevant due to people’s addiction of hitting ‘reply all.’ Modern life is complicated. It is demanding. It is exhausting at times and this is why self-preservation entails a digital detox.
Our earliest ancestors had periods of work – hunting and gathering – and then rest – going back to the cave to hideout from the ever-present threats of the time. Not that long ago, women unplugged from the world during our menses as a time to renew, rest, and recuperate. In China, until recent years, women would give birth and rest for at least a month afterward.
Today, we operate in a non-stop world where we push ourselves to train for the marathon while working sixteen-hour days just to prove ourselves. We pop out a baby and are in the gym the next day because getting our post-baby hot body is a badge of honor. We leave our phones on 24-7 just in case we miss something. We sacrifice sleep, so we can get more done. Then, when our bodies start falling apart we spend a fortune on naturopaths, doctors, therapy, and wine. When all else fails, we push harder. This is the insane modern world we live in.
At what point do we re-claim our lives? When do we start going back to the basics of a more balanced life understanding that just because we are doing more doesn’t mean we are more effective.
My personal opinion is that this non-stop, always ‘on’ existence has made us more hypersensitive than ever and we use a variety of methods, from alcohol to Ambien to pot, to calm ourselves down. We deny that truth that no one can be on and effective all of the time – it just isn’t possible.
In my own life, with kids, business, the desire to stay in shape, and be the woman that I can be proud of, it is seductive to constantly justify being on social media non-stop, responding to every email, producing new content for my blog, podcast and YouTube™ channel. What I profoundly understand is that I am not someone who is effective, or productive, when I don’t reset and resetting, for me, and my family, comes in the form of our annual digital detox and Sacred Sundays where I forego all texts, emails, and social media, for one week annually, three days over Christmas, and once per week.
Unplugging is not easy. Naturally my mind tends to focus on what is happening without me however I also know that I will not get this time with my kids back. They are growing up so quickly and undoubtedly their memories of childhood will be mommy working on soccer skills in the backyard with them, baking cookies, delicious sit-down Sunday dinners, and most importantly how on that one day per week, there is no need to hurry, put someone else’s crisis before our family, and how healthy it is to be present.
The kids love the annual digital detox. I am strict about my own experience however they have periodically been known to text a friend. The cottage we rent has a minimal cell signal and low speed internet, so it reduces temptation and frankly, as the week of no screens goes by, it is amazing to see how much happier they are.
A study of 100 children, published in Computers in Human Behavior found that sixth grade children who spent five days at summer camp without technology had significantly improved their ability to recognize different emotions in others than those who spend 4.5 hours per day at home watching television, gaming, texting, etc. As I observe my children over the course of the week, it is quite evident.
A digital detox can be daunting, and as someone who has coached numerous clients, spoken to audiences of thousands at a time, and worked hard to practice what she preaches, the thing that I want to tell you is that for many, detaching from devices for one week is akin to getting sober – one day at a time. That being said, there are concrete steps to follow and I would highly recommend you consider doing a digital detox before the end of the year as though your own self-preservation, and that of your family, depends on it.
7 Steps to Creating an Effective Digital Detox
Your digital detox isn’t going to happen without advance planning. I book a cottage in a remote part of Maine. There isn’t a cell signal within 2 miles. There is limited Wi-Fi in the house and an old fashion land line telephone. For this one week out of the year, I am not on social media, I do not text or email, and I am unplugged.
I like to schedule my detox around a holiday because more people take time off and this is an opportune time to be incommunicado with fewer people looking for me.
2.Put Things on Auto-Pilot
Before you go off the grid, put things like paying your bills and even your portfolio, on autopilot. When I go on my digital detox week, I shuffle the portfolio of my main trading account so that I am stressing to look at the markets. I might move things into index funds or simply sit on cash. I want to avoid that temptation.
Obviously, paying bills in advance and setting up your email autoresponder is key. You will not fully detox if you wake up freaking out about a missed payment in the middle of the night or returning to hundreds of emails from people who didn’t know you were out of the office.
Doing a full detox at home is challenging. We create subconscious associations with our environment through our patterns of behavior. For example, if we look at our phone first thing in the morning, we are programmed to do so. If we are at home attempting to do our detox, we will have a tougher time breaking this program as opposed to if we are outside of our environment.
Going to a place that is conducive to unplugging is key – think beaches, woods, mountains – anywhere that doesn’t have hordes of people, light pollution, and gulp…a Starbucks™.
4.Let People Know
Once you have set the date of your detox, let people know. You may have surges of guilt however you will be surprised at how many people celebrate your decision, envious of your fortitude. Post on your social media, create an email notification that lets people know you are away, and most importantly – make NO exceptions.
5.Have an Emergency Plan
Life happens, and the blessing of our technology is that we can be reached when there is an emergency. Let’s say your pet gets injured at the kennel or your grandma ends up in the hospital – of course you want to know. If you have someone with you who is not detoxing – ask if they can be the emergency contact. This will make it much easier.
If you are at a hotel, give the hotel number to whomever might require it. Let people know that this is for emergencies only and spell them out!
6.Put Your Phone on ‘Airplane Mode’
Our phones have become an extension of our lives and many of us no longer have an actual camera – we use our phones. As obvious as this sounds, putting our phones on ‘airplane mode’ while we are taking our holiday photos is essential. Better yet, dig out that old camera and pop in a new SD card. The less you pick up your phone on your digital detox, the better.
7.Consider Creating a Digital Detox Culture at Work
If you own your business, then it is about leading by example. If you work for a company, be the leader – make the suggestion. Millennials especially, are demanding work-life balance. Yes, they may have their phone on 7 days per week however that doesn’t mean that they want to hear from their boss every day. Companies must embrace a culture of balance if they want to attract and retain the best talent and that means that someone must take charge.
My COO takes two weeks off at the end of every summer. No email. No texts. Nada! We do not reach out to her and she does not check in with us. We do this again in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. These are also paid weeks with no exception. I teach my team that whatever we need to get done is getting done by mid-December and if it isn’t then we will have to suffer the consequences in January.
I take one detox week in July, a few days around Christmas, and shut my phone off at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday and do not turn it on until Monday morning unless I am flying on Sunday. I intend to play the long game in business.
I have run 6 Boston Marathons, finished top 10 in the pro division of The Ironman Triathlon in Malaysia and frankly know what it takes to compete at elite level endurance sports. Business is no different – if we are not working hard six days per week, taking one day off, and taking time every 90 days to re-charge, we will never be successful. I treat business with the same acumen that I did racing and that is why I have achieved what I have.
If you own your business, lead by example, implement policies that create an environment for employees to truly unplug and not just hibernate in a pod for 15 minutes and then get jacked up on a triple espresso. Employees need time with their families, time to play in their local softball league, time to go out with friends, and time to disconnect from their work environment. We all do.
Does Your Company Need Help With Work-Life Balance?
Susan Sly is an expert when it comes to assisting people with living more balanced, productive lives. Work-life balance may not seem as enticing as boosting sales however if you want to attract, and maintain, your top people, creating a culture of better work-life balance is essential.
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