Note: This article on digital minimalism is by contributing writer Tammy Strobel.
Recently, my husband and I went on vacation. We spent three nights away from home and explored a picturesque town along the Northern California coast. The trip was a delightful experience, and it offered us a much-needed respite from our usual weekday and weekend routines.
The best part of the trip: we mostly unplugged from the Internet and our devices. I say “mostly” because we still used our phones. We used our phones for gps, to navigate our way around, pinpointing local restaurants, cafes, and scenic trails. We were grateful for the helpful digital technology but overall, we made a conscious effort to refrain from scrolling through the news and other digital media, checking email, or aimlessly browsing the internet.
In essence, we tried to keep our phone use to a minimum. That intention gave us the opportunity to take a closer look at our technology use and do a short digital detox, and it felt so good.
Below are five tips that have helped protect my mental well-being by decreasing the amount of time I spend on my phone and computer. I use these strategies on vacations, and in my everyday life. I hope the tips below benefit you, too!
1.) Set clear boundaries
I’m a fan of setting better boundaries in all areas of my life; especially work-life digital boundaries. As a remote worker, boundaries have helped me reduce burnout and learn to communicate clearly. As a result, I do better work. And, I’m able to fully unplug after work and on vacation. I set these boundaries with people I work with and myself when I turn off notifications and create some quiet in this increasingly noisy world.
2.) Engage in analog activities
By limiting my use of technology, I’m rediscovering the joy of analog hobbies as an adult. It’s improved my well-being and stimulates my creativity. For example, I love to read paperback books. This helps me understand what I’m reading more deeply, and organize quotes and notes in my commonplace notebook.
A few more analog activities that I love include doodling in my journal, hanging out with loved ones, and watching birds with my cat. As you can see, I’m not interested in a drastic change but instead a shift towards things that bring me joy.
3.) Turn your phone off, and leave it at home
When was the last time you turned your phone off or left it at home?
If you’re not sure, I empathize and relate. My phone is always near me, and I want to change this habit. Turning off my phone is the best way for me to recharge. And, it’s hard for me to do.
When I think about leaving my phone at home, here are a few questions that pop into my mind: What if there is a family emergency? What if I need to access my Notes app? And what if I want to take a photo?
If I turn off my phone, it’s possible a family emergency could happen. But it’s unlikely. My other concerns can be addressed, too. For instance, I can put a notebook in my pocket or carry a regular camera on walks and bike rides. So, I’m going to start taking tiny breaks from my phone. My first step: when I take my next walk, I’ll turn it off and leave it at home.
4.) Quit social media or use it sparingly
Roughly five years ago, Alexandra Franzen – a successful author and business person – inspired me to quit social media for personal purposes. Quitting platforms like Instagram helped me reclaim my time, protect my mental health, and reassess how I share my creative work online. Digital minimalism affects not only us but the countless lives we touch every day which is why it’s important to take better control of our technological lives.
More importantly, I’m less distracted and present in my life. As Franzen said, “… I began to look up and admire the evening sky (instead of looking down at my phone). I could enjoy a meal with friends (rather than interrupting the conversation to snap a photo of my salad for strangers on the Internet to behold).”
I’ve had similar experiences. I’m not interested in sharing my personal life on social media or spending endless hours scrolling through content. It doesn’t bring me joy. Instead, I’m focused on doing good work, hanging out with loved ones, and taking care of myself. As Ann Friedman said, “It’s a privilege to opt out, and a pleasure.”
5.) Plan outdoor activities
I love engaging in outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and taking a stroll in my neighborhood. Spending time outside – surrounded by nature – is a delightful way to take a break from screens. I’m able to reconnect with the physical world by paying attention to my surroundings and moving my body. If you’re having trouble paying attention, consider starting a “Noticing Notebook.”
Bonus tip: “Pretend the internet is broken”
Want to create more time for what you love? Read Courtney Carver’s article – “8 Tiny Notes To Help You Create Time For What You Love.” There is a lot of great advice in Courtney’s article. Here’s my favorite tip: “Pretend the internet is broken.”
Courtney said, “I think we all know where the biggest time sucks are. Email, Instagram, Facebook, Googling things, news alerts and all the browsing and scrolling. For a little while every day and a little bit longer every week, unplug. Create pockets of quiet, get bored, embrace solitude. Track how much time you spend online each week. If you cut back 25% how much time will that give you for the things you love?”
And remember …
Trying a digital detox doesn’t mean you have to give up technology. For example, experimenting with different ideas – like a “digital Sabbath” – helped me find a balance between my online and offline life.
As journalist and author – Catherine Price – said, “Regular breaks can be an effective way to rebalance your body’s chemistry and regain your sense of control. A 24-hour ‘digital Sabbath’ can be surprisingly soothing (once the initial twitchiness subsides), but even just leaving your phone behind when you get lunch is a step in the right direction.”
Looking for resources to help you unplug? Here’s a short list to get you started:
- How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price
- The Power of Fun by Catherine Price
- Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
- Spend Less Time on Your Phone with These 15 Little Tricks by Courtney Carver
- A Simple Digital Declutter Checklist by Tammy Strobel
- Sabbath and the Art of Rest a conversation with Ezra Klien and Judith Shulevitz