There’s no escaping the fact that technology has never been more intertwined with our daily lives. While there are of course some huge benefits to the digital world we live in – how did we find our way anywhere before google maps(?!) and thank goodness for Zoom – it can also be a source of daily stress.
Whether it’s the constant interruptions of messages, calls and emails, or the endless comparisons and FOMO (fear of missing out) triggered by social media. Being “on” and “available” all the time is not always healthy.
And now with an increasing number of us working from home and relying on technology to communicate with friends and family and even to exercise, there’s no escaping. Which is why now more than ever we need to be mindful of the time we spend “online” and the impact it might be having on our physical and mental health.
I recently took a day off social media – inspired by the #digitaldetoxday campaign lead by Zoe Sugg. I was surprised at how many times I, without thinking, picked up my phone and my thumb hovered over the social media apps. And because I hadn’t decided to do a full digital detox I simply opened another app instead to amuse my monkey mind, which probably defeated the point somewhat.
I looked back at a previous post I had written on digital detoxing and was shocked to discover I’d written it four years ago! And was even more ashamed to say that I haven’t been practising what I preached. So it’s time for a change.
I don’t want to ditch technology completely but I don’t want it to rule my life. I am awful for trying to fill and use every moment of every waking hour and, hands up, I often use social media and technology as a distraction. So what I want now is to be more deliberate and conscious of how I use technology in my life. I want to stop the hours of mindless scrolling and feeling overwhelmed by digital clutter.
So here are the steps I’m taking, I hope they inspire you to make some changes to your relationship with the digital world too.
Decluttering my digital space
I’m a firm believer that a clean and organised environment is good for our mental and physical health. I spent many hours in lockdown decluttering our physical space, now I’m focusing on my digital space. Below are some of the things I’m doing as part of my digital declutter. Some steps will take a while to complete initially but then, as long as I keep on top of it (famous last words) I should hopefully be able to maintain the sense of calm and order which comes from a decluttered digital space.
I’ve chosen a calming image for my desktop picture and am trying to keep files and folders on here to a minimum. Right now I have just three which act a bit like digital in-trays for different projects I’m working on. Occasionally I may add files to my desktop in the short term but every Friday I spend 5-10 minutes making sure my desktop is clear again.
Files and folders
I’m doing this in stages and being ruthless. Just because it’s not taking up physical space doesn’t mean it’s not overwhelming for your brain.
I’ve deleted anything I no longer need and organised my files into “everyday” which I store on an external hard drive and back up to the cloud weekly. Anything I don’t need on a daily basis but need to keep has been moved solely onto the cloud. This not only makes it easier to find what I’m looking for but also make my files seem less overwhelming.
I have made peace with the fact that inbox zero is an impossibility for me but again tackling it in small steps every day and filing emails means I am not overwhelmed every day just by opening my email – and this is coming from someone who has five email accounts to manage!
I’ve gone through emails chronologically, responding/actioning those which I can deal with immediately, unsubscribing from things which offer no value to me now, deleting anything I no longer need and filing anything I may need again. Emails left in each inbox are those that require action but which can’t be dealt with immediately. Each is flagged with a colour which corresponds which what action is required.
My inbox is never empty but everything is dealt with daily and no longer seeing that red dot over my email icon on my phone and laptop makes me feel on top of life!
I’ve found setting a timer for 15-minutes and just having a focused session of digital decluttering really helps as it makes it feel less overwhelming and it’s actually surprising what you can achieve in this time.
Now, this is a HUGE undertaking for me, and the one I am putting off the most. I’m using the short bursts approach for this again and slowly deleting, categorising and filing my digital photos. I’m also making a file of photos to print at the end of by declutter to add to an album or frames as I love looking at the old photos albums I have – even if some of the photos are a bit cringe!
My phone is probably more overwhelming for me that my laptop because it is the thing I use and look at most often. So I’ve focused on trying to simplify and streamline my phone in the following ways:
Apps – I went through all the apps on my phone and deleted those which I don’t use regularly and any which no longer feel helpful. I’ve then filed the apps into categories so I just have 2 pages of apps on my phone now and I find that much more manageable.
Emails – I’ve removed all my work emails from my phone which means once I shut my laptop at the end of the day or week there is no opportunity to ‘quickly check’ anything work-related. This has lowered my stress levels considerably. I’ve found that there is very rarely anything so urgent it can’t wait until I next log on and if it is urgent someone will contact me another way.
Background – like my desktop I changed my background to a plain colour as I found it more calming to look at – particularly with all the apps on top of it.
Notifications – this has to be the biggest one, I’ve turned off all notifications. This means if I’m focused on something I’m not interrupted. Game changer for productivity and stress levels.
Creating healthy digital boundaries
In addition to decluttering my digital space, I’m also working on setting some boundaries to create screen-free pockets of time in my daily routine. These are the boundaries I’m trying to set for myself:
- No social media before 10 am or after 9 pm (I’d like to work on making this social media window smaller but for now this feels like a realistic place to start). The exception to this is the guided meditations I do on YouTube first thing in the morning.
- One social media and email free day a week and one screen free day a month.
- Leaving my phone in the other room/at home while doing an activity where I don’t need it to stop me being distracted by the temptation to – ‘just check’. Our brain isn’t wired to multi-task. It’s overwhelming and will impact our brain’s ability to focus and concentrate. So basically being present in the moment and doing one thing at a time.
- Scheduling screen-free hours when I do things which don’t involve a screen like reading a book, exercising, cooking or meeting friends IRL (in real life) while we still can.
So while I fully accept that the digital world will always be a part of life and in many respects, it offers so many opportunities and benefits, I want to be more conscious of my use and consumption of it. Hopefully, these steps will mean it will remain a positive influence in my life and not add to my stress levels.
Do you have any digital boundaries or digital detox tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment below…