I have made my living on the internet as a writer and influencer for the last eight years. Technology, for all its benefits and opportunities, can also quickly begin to overwhelm us and distract us. I see it every day in my own life and in others.
For that reason, one of the most important steps I have ever taken to keep my use of technology healthy and balanced is an annual digital detox.
Simply put, once a year, I take an extended break from technology. I have experimented with different durations of time over the years, ranging anywhere from 14 days to 40 days. But I have found the most effective time frame for a helpful digital detox to be 29 days.
When I take a tech fast, I inevitably learn I am more addicted to my devices than I thought. But that is the nature of addiction, isn’t it? We can never fully realize our level of addiction until the item is taken away. The only way to truly discover technology’s controlling influence on your life is to turn it off, walk away, and sense how strong the pull is to turn it back on.
During the detox, I place strict boundaries on myself for the time frame selected. For example, I still use my phone for calls and texts but remove all other functions, apps, opportunities, and distractions (even camera and maps). I still use my computer for work but limit the amount of time and the websites that I allow myself to visit.
The purpose is to reorient my thinking around and use of technology in my life and work.
Each time I go on a digital detox, it proves to be a powerful reset for me in my relationship with technology. And inevitably rebalances my life around things that matter in the long run.
To help you know if a 29-day digital detox would be valuable, here are five signs you need one:
1. You spend more time on your devices than you intended.
Technology can be like quicksand–sticky and challenging to escape.
Haven’t we all gotten hooked after one article and stayed for another article, comment, or share? You click on an article that should only take five to 10 minutes of your time, but then continue scrolling down your Facebook news feed afterward… Before you know it, you’ve spent 15 to 20 minutes mindlessly scrolling.
The squandering of time is a direct and obvious consequence of the built-in attraction of games, sites, and apps. You may find it easier to disrupt this habit entirely and then start again rather than merely try to curb it.
2. You feel guilt or dissatisfaction after spending time with your electronic devices.
When I eat a bag of chips, I immediately feel the salt on my tongue. Eventually, the saltiness dulls and oils remain. The residue remains on my fingertips. But when I overeat these empty calories, I feel dissatisfied.
Technology use has a similar reward-regret curve. Each site and article provides a little nugget of instant gratification. Too many, and I’m inclined to regret this use of time.
If you’re filled with negative emotions after spending time on tech, that’s a not-so-subtle hint that you need to go on a tech break.
3. You are motivated by a fear of missing out.
FOMO is a recognized form of social anxiety that has gotten worse in our day. It’s the worry that others might be having fun online while you’re not there. If I’m not watching that video or scrolling that feed, I’m going to be the loser who isn’t in on the cool thing that’s happening.
The truth is, you’ll always miss out on something. There’s always more we can participate in, but time is limited, and being busier is not the answer. To teach yourself this truth, do the subversive thing and deliberately miss out on communication and entertainment.
During your 29-day fast from technology, you can give the most important people a way to get through to you in an emergency. Everything else can just wait.
4. You experience urges to check and check again.
The little red symbol says you’ve got 15 new emails. What if they’re important? You’d better check now!
Yes, you were on Facebook just half an hour ago. But a lot has downloaded into your feed in that time.
You’ve already scanned the headlines on your favorite news channel several times, but since the last time, a “breaking news alert” may have started scrolling in the ticker box.
Find out how much more you can get done if you stop interrupting your own concentration. And how unnecessary nearly all of that information is that you were obsessively checking on.
5. You never have enough time in your day.
Once I was talking about the distraction of technology with my kids at the kitchen counter. They got out their phones and reported their screen time and most-used apps.
“Now what about you, Dad?” said Salem.
Of course, to keep this fair I had to check too.
What I found still haunts me. I’d picked up my phone more than 50 times that day. I’d spent more than two hours on email, social media, text messaging, and web browsing. While a lot of that was for work, it was still far more than I would have guessed or could have justified.
At the end of a day, it’s not uncommon to feel like we’ve been incredibly busy. The busyness and stress are real, but if you were to reduce tech usage, might it help you feel calmer and more available for what matters?
If you recognize yourself in the list above, try a 29-day digital detox. Sure, you can do it successfully for a different length of time, but I’ve observed that 29 days seems to give most people the right amount of time for abstaining from technology and gaining a new perspective on it.
When you’re doing your digital detox, make it as comprehensive as you possibly can. I realize there are exceptions. Maybe you have to use email and text for your work. Maybe you’ve got teens with driver’s licenses and you want to keep your cellphone on when they’re out of the house. But still, the more you can cut out, the more effective this exercise will be.
And don’t give in before the 29 days are up. You’ll be shocked by how much personal growth can happen in 29 days!