Digital Detox Week 1: Hidden Successes in My Failures

The first week of my digital detox felt like a total failure. Until I looked at the stats.

My iPhone Screen Time report says I averaged 1 hour, 6 minutes of usage per day last week. That’s down 48 percent from the week before. Progress!

I’ve almost entirely eliminated mindless web surfing. No Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. Only a few LinkedIn checks to look up someone I needed to know for work. I’ve hardly gone to the websites I used to visit constantly, like ESPN and my CBS fantasy basketball page (my team is awful anyway). And I don’t really miss most of the apps I deleted from my phone.

So why did I feel so crummy? Email and texting crushed me. Within a few days of beginning my digital detox, I found myself messaging — with my wife, my friends, my son’s soccer coaches — way too often. I realize now that the rules I’d set for Gmail and Messages were too vague to follow. For example, I’d told myself I could only check them a few times a day, but I didn’t set specific times. So I just went in when it felt like it had been awhile.

Not surprisingly, when you’re used to checking your phone constantly, 20 minutes feels like awhile.

I opened my phone 39 times per day on average during the week, according to Screen Time. Messages and Gmail (in that order) were by far the apps I used first. And once I’d slipped, it was easy to give myself permission to keep slipping. I mean, you’re already here, so might as well just send a few more messages…

So I’ve made some tweaks. I’m:

  • adopting the 100 percent compliance approach for Gmail and Messaging: I can check on my phone or computer each day at 9 a.m., 2 p.m., and 8 p.m. — AND NO OTHER TIMES. In between, I’m disabling email accounts on my phone and closing computer browser windows.
  • putting my phone out of reach — and out of sight, like in a drawer or backpack — more often to reduce temptations.
  • finding more ways to engage myself offline. The more fulfillment I’m finding away from my devices, the less I’m craving them. When I saw Aziz Ansari perform at the Paramount with friends last Thursday night, I left my phone at home, and I found myself grateful for its absence. Everyone going into the show was grumbling as they slipped their phones into the Yondr bags that stashes away your device to prevent you from taking videos, and I felt free. I felt that same liberation when I was in coaching training this past weekend, engaged in deep conversations.
  • recommitting to writing something every day about my digital detox. To support this, I’m putting a print calendar on the wall beside my desk and crossing off each day I write.

And mostly, I’m reminding myself why I’m doing this: I’d much rather pay attention to the world around me, and the thoughts inside my head, than to my screens.

Executive coach to environment and social-impact leaders and teams. Seeker of wisdom and inspiration. Former Apple, Google, LA Times, Boston Globe.

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