How To Take A Digital Detox And Actually Stick To It

Write a sentence, realise you have to Google something, get distracted by Facebook notification, check Instagram while you’re at it, end up on the profile of your cousin’s boyfriend’s sister’s pet dog… and half an hour later, you still haven’t written that sentence. Sound familiar?

Our collective habit of obsessively checking our smartphones is seriously eating into our productivity. Research shows it takes 25 minutes to get back on task after an interruption, so you can only imagine what happens when you’re getting distracted every five minutes.

But of even more concern is the impact our reliance on our social media is having on our mental health. Countless studies show that technology-related depression, anxiety and stress are all on the rise. Nomophobia, an irrational fear of being without your mobile phone, is now even a recognised medical condition. Yep, we’ve officially reached peak 2018.

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Increasing awareness of the effect of social media on our productivity and mental wellbeing is leading more millennials to take breaks from their devices. You’ve probably even seen #digitaldetox floating around on social media (ironic, right?). It’s definitely something worth doing — A study from the Danish Happiness Institute shows that people who took a short break from their electronic devices felt 55% happier and less stressed.

That said, taking a day off social media can be easier said than done. Most of us are in the habit of instinctively reaching for our phones every five minutes and it takes some serious willpower not to check how many people liked that dancing monkey video we shared. The good news is, you don’t have to have the mental fortitude of a monk to successfully complete a digital detox. These five foolproof hacks will ensure you actually stick it out.

#1 Rally an accountability partner

There’s nothing worse than the person who makes a big song and dance on social media about going off the grid, only to be back online three hours later (okay, that was me). But telling people you’re going to be doing a digital detox does make you significantly more likely to actually stick to it. After all, who wants to be known as the person who doesn’t keep their word?

You can even go so far as rallying an accountability partner or group. Whether they join in on the digital detox or just make sure you keep your mitts off your phone, they’ll be able to help keep you honest.

#2 Go cold turkey

It can be tempting to say “Oh, I’ll just stay off my phone for two hours” or “I’ll just watch Netflix but won’t check Instagram.” But to really reap the benefits of a digital detox, you really need to go completely screen-free for at least half a day. Photographer Jo Alexander-Wynne regularly does digital detoxes and employs an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to ensure she’s not tempted to check her devices.

“If I’m at home, I just leave my laptop, iPad and phone in my bedroom.”

“If I’m at home, I just leave my laptop, iPad and phone in my bedroom,” she says.

Writer Karyn Dee employs a similar approach when she’s feeling stressed or overwhelmed: “On a sunny afternoon, I like to leave my phone in the car and find a spot by the water for a few hours,” she says. “I set my intentions for the week ahead and once I get home, I write them in my planner.”

#3 Block it out

That said, what happens if you do actually need to work but just want to take a break from social media? While it’s not a full digital detox, it will still do you a world of good. Plus, you’re likely to get way more done when you’re not compulsively checking your notifications every two seconds.

In situations like this, apps like Freedom or SelfControl come in handy. You simply tell them which apps you want to block and for how long and they’ll auto-shut down when you try to open them.

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#4 Change your password

Here’s where an accountability partner comes in again. If you’re spending your digital detox day solo but really don’t trust yourself to stay off social media, ask a trusted friend or family to temporarily change your social media passwords for you. That way, you can’t scroll through Facebook or Instagram even if you want to.

#5 Set boundaries

So, you’ve made it through your first digital detox and you’re feeling lighter, more motivated and a little bit smug. Now what? The last thing you want to do is go straight back to your “check your phone first thing in the morning and last thing at night” ways.

It’s important to set healthy boundaries around technology that go beyond taking a break every now and again. Jo Alexander-Wynne takes a mini digital detox from 8:30 pm to 7 am every single day. “Emails, Facebook notifications, text messages… everything stops,” she says. “I have my husband, parents and sisters set up on my VIP list in the ‘do not disturb’ function on my phone so their calls get through, but anything else can wait.”

Student and correspondence manager Ellie Bekavec has gone one step further, completely deleting Instagram and Facebook after noticing it was affecting her mental wellbeing and productivity. “It took speaking to several people who had deleted social media to help me realise it was completely wasting my time,” she says. “If I want to connect with someone, I can call them and we’ll have so many things to talk about because I haven’t been seeing all their life updates in my feed.”

Emma Norris is a Sydney-based freelance writer and the owner of copywriting business, contentinthecity.com and lifestyle blog, agirlinprogress.com. When she’s not playing with words, she’s either doing pushups or stuffing her face with pizza. You can follow her on Instagram @emmajanenorris.