Many of us dream about closing the lid on our laptop, turning on our auto-responder, slipping on our boardies or bikini and strolling into summer holidays to take a break from our devices. Some of us dream of WiFi-free locations, or Christmas Day spent free from our kids’ techno-tantrums (we can dream, right?).
Taking a tech sabbatical sounds easy (and something we aspire to do), but then the reality of doing so kicks in. Can I really unplug? Can I go a whole day (or few days or week) without checking my phone, email or social media? What will I miss out on?
The truth is, many of us struggle with taking a tech break (and not just our tech-infatuated kids and teens). As adults, we struggle to take a tech break too, if we’re really honest. The technologies we use, rely on and love have been deliberately engineered to prey on our psychological needs and weaknesses. They’ve also become such an integral part of our daily lives now, that to go without, sometimes feels akin to cutting off our oxygen supply.
However, I want to encourage you to take a tech break this holiday period. Use it as an opportunity to reboot ad recharge (yourself and your devices). You don’t need to check into a Digital Detox Retreat, or ban technology completely- digital amputation isn’t necessary. You just need to take a small break. It’s not too complicated and there are a raft of benefits you’ll reap if you make a conscious effort to unplug (even for a very short period).
In fact, I’m going to suggest that the upcoming Christmas holiday period is an ideal time to participate in a digital reboot (I’m not proposing a full ‘digital detox’). It’s a time where we loosen our grip on emails, where our calendar isn’t chock-a-block full with meetings and where we don’t have looming digital deadlines. To put it simply, it’s an easier time for us to unplug.
However, I didn’t promise it would be an ‘easy’ thing to do. For many of us, our digital behaviours have become so entrenched that taking a break often fills us with more stress and overwhelm. But it doesn’t need to be like that. If we proactively plan our digital sabbatical, it’s much more likely to be successful and we’re more likely to reap the benefits. So here’s what I suggest to set yourself up for success these holidays.
Practical tips to digitally-disconnect this Christmas
// Digitally inform your family and friends– use email or social media (ironically) to inform your family and friends (perhaps your demanding clients too) that you will be taking a brief screen sabbatical, even if it’s just on Christmas Day. Do this in advance (and not on Christmas morning as you’ll be tempted to enter the digital vortex and once you’re in there, it’s hard to climb out). I’m thrilled to be an ambassador for the Groupon ‘Give the Gift of Presence’ campaign, where we’re encouraging Australians to put down their phone on Christmas Day and give your friends and family the gift of your presence. Download and sign the Groupon Christmas Presence Pledge and share online so you don’t feel obliged to reply to messages or check your social accounts on Christmas Day. (As humans, we’re wired for social connection and belonging, so we perceive being digitally-disconnected as a form of social ostracisation and worry we’ll be cut out of the tribe). Taking and sharing your public pledge will also help to keep you accountable and may also encourage your family and friends to do the same too.
// Plan your digital disconnection– what simple strategies can you put in place in advance to support your day of digital disconnection? Will you leave your phone at home, or perhaps put it somewhere you can’t see it, such as in a drawer or your bag (because we know that simply seeing your phone can be a mental trigger to reach for it)? Could you switch it to silent? If you want to use it to take photos (which many of us want to do) could you switch it to airplane mode, capture the photos on Christmas Day and then upload them to social media on Boxing Day? Could you have a bowl or box where other family members place their phones on Christmas Day so no one is tempted to ‘phub’ over Christmas lunch.
// Disable notifications & alerts– pings and alerts have been intentionally designed to hijack our attention and trick us into thinking that every notification is urgent and important. So before your digital sabbatical on Christmas Day, disable notifications. Worried you’ll miss something important? Batch your notifications so they all arrive on Boxing Day, so you’ll have peace-of-mind knowing that you won’t suffer from FOMO.
// Go greyscale– switching your phone to greyscale makes it much less psychologically-appealing to use (trust me, Instagram is nowhere near as interesting in black and white). Technology has been designed to prey on our psychological weaknesses and the strategic use of colours and appealing icons make us want to reach for our screen. It’s reported that Steve Jobs said, “We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them.”
// Keep your weaknesses off your home screen– worried that you may need to urgently need to take a phone call or use your phone to check the weather, and then you’ll see your favourite social media icon and end up down the social media rabbit hole? You’re not alone. Remove your digital temptations (maybe it’s Instagram or Snapchat) off your home screen and pop these apps in a folder called ‘Things I May Later Regret’).
// Automate your digital disconnection– you can use the ‘Do Not Disturb’ and ‘Control Centre’ features on your phone to send an auto-reply to people calling or texting on Christmas Day (pre-write a message that will be automatically sent via SMS to communicate that you’ll be digitally-disconnecting. This will be automatically sent when ‘Do Not Disturb’ is activated in the Control Centre- you can also set up the option that if it is an urgent matter, the Do Not Disturb function can be overridden by replying with the word ‘urgent’). Set up an email autoresponder clearly outlining your day (or days) of digital disconnection, so you’re not lured in by the red notification bubble that tells you have 32 unread emails on Christmas night.
// Plan your screen-free options– often picking up our phone has become a habitual behaviour, so we need to crowd out the time that we may otherwise mindlessly scroll, with some planned screen-free alternatives. Could you plan a game of beach cricket after Christmas lunch, play a game of charades, or listen to music? Planning some activities in advance will minimise the chances that you reach for your phone.
Give it a go and see how rejuvenated, focused and rested you feel after being unplugged. Even if it’s just one day. It will have a profound impact on your wellbeing, relationships, focus and motivation. I’m not suggesting you need to do anything drastic and unplug for your entire Christmas break, nor am I suggesting you aspire for a #screenfreesummer for your kids (I’ve written about that here).
Curious about how digitally-dependent you are? Take my quick quiz and find out more about your digital wellbeing.