I did it. I actually did it.
This summer I achieved a… drum roll… digital detox!
And it was like coming off crack.
In August, we shared a week of our summer break with friends. We had a great time; mainly lying on beaches, eating amazing food and drinking G&T.
One night, the conversation turned to smart phones, ‘I bet you two couldn’t survive a day without your phones’, challenged Mrs Hep.
‘Easy,’ my mate and I declared, thinking she meant don’t take it to the beach for an afternoon.
But no. This challenge was a full 24 hours with phones locked in the safe and no other technology allowed.
‘Deal’, we agreed. But let’s up the ante. Three days and two nights – no tech.
The first 6 hours were fine. Then it became tough. We were both suffering from abandonment issues.
I wanted to find out what caused the withdrawal and how to deal with it…. but I couldn’t Google it!
My mate wanted to know what was happening on the last day of the transfer window…. but he wasn’t even allowed a text from his son.
That first day was tough.
Day two was only slightly better. When other people’s phones gave (Pavlovian) notification pings, we found ourselves scanning for our devices.
Then on the evening of day two our partners went shopping in the local town and we had an hour before dinner. G&T’s (with Spanish measures) were ordered and we watched the world go by.
At one point we just sat. No conversation. No distraction. Just there. In the moment. And no desire to check LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Email, Insta, BBC breaking news or what the weather would be like tomorrow.
When it came to retrieving our phones we both agreed to do this more often. In fact we’ve set up a WhatsApp group to stay accountable – only kidding.
When Pavlov rang the bell and his dog salivated, he proved that we didn’t need anything other than a sound to trigger a high emotional response.
Since my summer experiment, I’ve turned off ALL notifications on my phone. No tings, boings or bleeps. Bliss.
I’ve made a decision. Probably overdue. I’m going to massively reduce my screen time when I’m not working. Christine does this brilliantly. I need to learn from an expert – one that’s with me, not the online ‘refer to Google’ version.
I’d love to know your tips for reducing screen time. I’ll send a physical copy of my book Flip It – how to get the best out of everything to our favourite.
Please leave your thoughts below.
PS Have you heard of the latter experiment Pavlov carried out with his cat? You can view Eddie Izzard’s brilliant description here.
I’ve made a conscious decision not to belong to any groups, be on FB, Twit-ter, I use Google in my work research ONLY, never buy on Ebay and use Amazon when I need a new book – my only online vice. My phone is simply, a phone for calling and talking to people, texting when I need to. If I had to stop tech for a month, it wouldn’t be a problem, all I need is another book!
To reduce screen time, buy the most basic phone you can and use it for texts and calls only. Keep your favourite smart phone offline and only use for a specified amount of time each day – I use mine for 30m am and pm each day. Of course, you can access important phone ins and info offline if needed during the day… and you can use it to take photos. I’ve been doing thus for 18m and love it
If your ‘phone is your life – get a life. Drink interesting wine, eat complex food, read challenging books, count birdsong, chat with strangers, take the bus, use shops …
Life is short; you lose the people (and animals) you love all too quickly – be with them and share time and love with them. Don’t leave it until it’s too late!
Had to comment as I LOVED the Eddie Izzard clip – made me laugh a lot. Reducing screen time for yourself is hard because of others expectations – we now live in an ‘instant’ world. If you wait more than 3 secs for an internet page to load the mouse is clicked in a frenzied panic that it’s broken…(remember the dial up days? or the C64 days? How many cassettes to load part 1 of a game? only for it to crash…..) and when if you didn’t go to see the person they didn’t know you wanted them (or had to call the local phone box at an agreed time) Now a text/message is sent – they get frustrated if it isn’t read instantly – and if you read it and don’t reply……well…..how rude! You must be available 24/7 – unless its after 11pm – apparently that rule still exists, but the before 7am one not so much…. I am seen as being ‘up my own ass’ for not having my phone next to me and for not answering every call immediately by choice, yet, my life is whizzing by and I barely know the people around me anymore….Screen time is still OUR time, and WE choose how OUR time is spent…..remember that and all will be well x
Loved this. GREAT experiment, a life changer. And loved the technology that allowed me to zip straight from reading this to Eddie Izzard on YouTube (oops).
Great article Michael. I’ve found moving the charger to another room helps, so I have to leave it somewhere out of reach. I also leave it downstairs at night. When I’m on vacation I leave it in the room and only check it once am and once pm. Turning off the notifications is the best thing. I did that some months ago and it’s a revelation. Now I manage the messages, they don’t manage me.
I’ve noticed this too while I’ve been on holiday! I’m scrolling through stuff mindlessly much more often and frustrated with myself. Technology has its place and I learn new things from social media all the time though it is so addictive. I’m trying to make conscious decisions to put my phone down and fully engage with being with people, watching the programme we’ve been waiting to see rather than only half paying attention and only checking in if there’s a purpose. We’ll see how that goes.
I have 2 reasons (excuses?) why not to do this. First, my phone is my camera. Second, I have some eyesight problems and so I find it much easier to read on electronic devices where I can control text size and brightness rather than physical books. I guess the answer is fairly easy – put devices in flight mode so I can only take pics and read – but much more tempting than locking it in a safe!
I identify one day each week, usually a Saturday or a Sunday, which will be screen free. It allows the brain to reboot, so the next week can be tackled more energetically. It also makes holiday limits on screen time, much easier to achieve, as I am less habituated to the screen.
Michael, this is so easy when you live in a mobile phone blank area! My phone is something I carry when away – but locally I usually don’t bother. Use a desktop in a study for internet access for short periods of time.
Own a crappy slow Iphone 5 like me with a tiny screen, crappy battery life and pay as you go.
It’s such a faff trying to read anything, monitor credit, monitor battery life – it becomes a real chore
I have been mulling over this very topic for quite some time now Michael. I did something very similar to you, but I guess a little more extreme. On a two week family holiday to France, I didn’t take my Iphone with me. Yikes, right?? My wife took hers for the odd keeping in touch with back home, reading news etc. Day 1 was tough, but after that I actually felt more and more liberated as the holiday went on. Having long engaged verbal conversations with family and friends brought so much joy. Reading actual books stretched my imagination and thinking. I tried so many new activities that i didn’t research the hell out of beforehand online. that sense of taking a risk, stepping into unknown was a little unsettling but ultimately liberating. The sense of calmness 4 days in felt wonderful. Not always reaching for my phone at the first sign of something new, or a single second of the need for stimulation at first was again unsettling, but again in the end found it so satisfying to explore new things, think for myself, not have to consult with my phone first.
I not saying the need to stay connected isn’t a good thing, but i learned that living more freely without your phone being the centre of your world is one of the best things i’ve ever done. Since I have been home its a little harder, need the phone for work, connecting etc, but i’ve reduced my screen time by half I would say in non work time after my little experiment, and i feel so much better for it. Finally a few tips that helped me and might help someone else…
Tell key contacts what you are doing, less stress on both sides if your replies take longer than necessary.
Eliminate sound notifications- they never stop and you will find them impossible to resist.
Start your ‘cutting back’ at the same time as doing more of something else new (reading) or something you always liked but didn’t have the time before (badminton!).
i found buying a print newspaper once a week helpful.
When you do use your phone in leisure time- challenge yourself- am I actually enjoying this?? I deleted 4 apps that just were not doing anything good for me.
The real toughie- social media. Insane addictive. Do you have to reply and like or comment on everything? Being a bit more selective worked for me.
More time actually talking to family and friends will bring a lot of joy when you’re not attached to your phone. Getting them onto the journey too will help.
Forget time targets just take the decision to not have it by your side constantly. When I get home from work I leave it in my coat pocket for first hour.
Anyways, i’ve waffled long enough! Good luck Michael and anyone else on the same journey.
I reduced my screen time earlier this year due to very painful cataracts but after the surgeries I have 20/20 vision but I still leave my phone switched off at night and approx. three quarters of the day. My business has not suffered and I love the freedom, so out of pain and operations I found something brilliant. Please keep sending your emails they are brilliant too.
Get a dumb phone – you get phone calls only – works a treat – No screen! 🙂
I use a screen timed app and set it for 30 mins per day on social media and 10 mins per day for games and these are the two things that I probably procrastinate the most on with my phone.
The deal is when I have used up my time then that is it for the day – it is amazing how quick you get on and off things when you know they are being timed and rarely now do I reach the time limit!
I don’t have anything to do with my personal mobile after 6pm each day, and don’t have it in the bedroom overnight anymore. My work mobile is switched off and left at work when I leave. This has all caused much better sleeping at night, with zero hours of laying awake worrying about things!
Brilliant as ever Michael
Best way I have found is set appointment/ commitment 3 times in day to process emails/ social media etc basically treating myself like I treat other people! But how do you know what it’s like coming off crack? 😉
I have an old iPhone 5s. It still works so I can’t justify buying a new one but the short battery life is a screen time limiter
I deleted easy to click apps to reduce my screen time, like fb or Instagram and if I wanted to look through I have to load on chrome which takes longer.
Also putting my phone somewhere I can’t remember is always a good thing 🙂
Brilliant article definitely inspiring to leave the phone away more often. I’m a stay at home mum and my phone is my main contact with the outside world For now I tend to have phone-free evenings and Saturdays…if I keep moving I don’t feel the urge to check things so much but if I sit down I’m doomed!!
personally I have 2 phones…my work phone is diverted to my personal phone out of hours for voicecalls only… with relevant folk advised they will need to leave a voicemail as personal phone is set to ‘do not disturb’ at times with only favourites getting through. turn off sound notification’s . works well for me 🙂
Hi. On my ‘ideal’ day I don’t open my email before lunch time and I leave my phone out of my office till the same time. Anything urgent (in the real sense of the word!) and someone will find a way to contact me! It opens up a whole new space for concentration!
I have a phone charger at the front door, when I get home from work I place my phone on the charger in silent mode!
I believe if anyone wanted to get in touch with me, they would ring the land line like they used to.
This has worked really well so far.
Move the apps that are tempting, for example email, wattsapp bbc news etc to screen two of your phone, so you don’t automatically see them each time you see you phone. Have screen one for functional items like calculator, maps productivity tools.
I use my phone as a phone and have only in the last few years learnt how to master texting! No internet or WiFi, no e-mails. Bliss. When I go away, I set an auto response saying that I am away and I will reply on my return. if that’s not good enough then someone will have to pick up the phone to the office who will then decide if I can be interrupted! which in the last five years has been never!
Hi Michael, I leave my phone on charge i the lounge overnight, it’s never allowed upstairs with me to the bedroom. It stops the temptation to check email, the time, the weather, social media stats etc if I wake up during the night. I am sleeping SO much better as a result.
It’s simply a case of “mind over matter” for the benefit of our own wellbeing!