Five Ways to Take a Break From Technology
From least intense to most, here are some ways to explore digital minimalism, a digital detox, or just a more mindful consumption of digital content.
1. Turning off devices at night and putting them in the other room (8–12 hours)
This is the low hanging fruit. If you are sleeping with your devices, you may want to rethink it. There is so much evidence now that having a phone nearby will disrupt your sleep. Our melatonin production suffers if we are staring at screens before bed. And if you have notifications going off while you’re sleeping? It’s time to prioritize sleep.
Sleep is crucial, for mental and physical health. More sleep makes you smarter, happier and better looking. One hour before bed, commit to turning everything off and giving your eyes and brain a break. Relax. Have a cup of tea and read a book. If reading’s not your thing, maybe listen to a bedtime story or a podcast. Or just do some light stretching and snuggle down under the blankets.
One other thing you can try, don’t check your phone or computer first thing when you wake up. Give yourself some time. Take a leisurely ten minutes to breathe, gather your thoughts, go for a walk, have a coffee. Start your day with music, maybe journaling, reading, or meditation. Mornings are sweet when they are slow. Even if you don’t have much time when you wake up, it feels more leisurely if you have some moments of peace.
2. A digital sabbath (24 hours)
If you want to take it a step further, try taking one day a week off of your devices. Try a completely screen-free day, just to see how it feels. Hide your phone and computer away on Saturday night and vow not to look at them again until Monday morning. What will you do? First of all, you’ll be absolutely shocked at how much time you suddenly feel like you have.
The hours stretch out in front of you, it feels luxurious. Go for a hike, go to the park. Get caught up on all the little things that you’ve been putting off. Start a new hobby or get back to the one you’ve been neglecting. See friends. Call all the people that you don’t get to talk to much. Read a book. Write a book. Enjoy your day off, and go to bed more relaxed and fulfilled than you’ve felt in a decade.
3. A weekend with no wifi
If you can afford to take a weekend off and wander in the woods, now might be a great time. Get out of town and off the grid. Either going camping or renting a rustic cabin, getting away from the grind can be pretty amazing.
About an hour outside my city there’s a convent that rents tiny, one-person cabins for $40 a night. They are sweet little retreats tucked into the woods with very little in the way of creature comforts. A single bed, a reading chair, a table. A tiny kitchen with very few dishes. I spent a couple of days there writing, reading, meditating. I did a LOT of walking.
At first, I went a little stir crazy. I could literally feel the energy of the city vibrating off of me the first night. By the second day though, all was quiet. I sat and watched the birds as the sun came up over the pond, and enjoyed a serenity that I seldom feel.
Of course, you could easily do this with friends, as long as everyone is on the same page. No sneaking off to get a signal, rough it for real. Pack some cards, board games, and good snacks. Find someplace secluded and enjoy each other's’ company. Remember how it feels to connect in real life.
4. A digital detox (30 days)
I did this during the month of January and it was very enlightening. The idea comes from Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism. Take 30 days off social media. It’s like a detox. Giving something up for 30 days gives you enough time to really examine your relationship with it. You get to see what you really need, what you are just using out of habit, and how your life is affected when it’s gone.
If you really want to examine how social media impacts you, try it. Taking one day off just isn’t enough time to truly know. When I did this, I noticed that my creativity was incredibly affected. I felt so much more creative and just felt like my mind was sharper in general. That wasn’t something I knew was going to happen. I felt lighter, freer. I also found a lot of my fears just didn’t come true. I still socialized, still made time for those I loved. My work didn’t suffer, in fact, I was way more productive.
5. A silent retreat (7–10 days)
This is actually less time than the detox, but it’s much more intense. During a silent retreat not only do you not have access to technology, but you also can’t write, read or speak. Far more impactful than taking a break from technology, you’re taking a break from everything. But, if you’re a seeker and you’re interested in discovering new things about yourself, I promise you that this is how you do it.
If it sounds scary, that’s because it is! Who wants to spend that much time alone with their thoughts? Well, I’ve done two silent retreats, and both times had incredible insights and breakthroughs that I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have had otherwise. It’s definitely not for everyone, but for the introspective among us, I say go for it.
Whenever I tell people about these retreats, there are usually two reactions. One is the “yeah, no way would I ever do that” reaction, and that’s totally great. But the other reaction is one of curiosity. They ask me lots of questions and get a little wondering look in their eye. To those people, I say do it. You are never going to feel totally ready, but if you are that curious, it’s for a reason. Just do it, it will be worth it.
People are thinking a lot lately about the ways that technology is shaping our day, our mind and our health. Many of us are feeling like it might not always be for the best. If you’ve had some of these thoughts, I urge you to try a break. Especially if you are a creative sort. To create, we have to be able to think independently, to connect to our inner voice. That’s hard to do when there’s so much information coming at us all the time. Give it a try. You may be really excited by how energized you feel.