Chapter 8: How to Unplug and Take Your Life Back

Our connection with technology is dependant on multiple ingredients. The good news is we get to pick and choose what we want to include in the finished product. It’s important to remember that each of us will have our own recipe for social glory, and that recipe will vary according to our unique situations. So, if we’re making our own rules, it’s good to know what the menu options are. For me, that means today I have my phone tucked away in another room so I don’t have to think about it. But tomorrow, I may need to make myself available 24/7. And you? Well perhaps you never have to be on call - lucky you! It’s abundantly clear at this point that our devices seem to be tethered to us all the time.

But maybe it’s actually the other way around - maybe it’s us who are tethered to them.

So what are we going to do about it?

Regardless of our relationship with technology, if we don’t have our devices in our hands then it’s impossible to use them. No, your pockets don’t count as “storage”. The temptation to use them remains if they’re physically present. Like we’ve discussed before, even law enforcement is coming on board with distracted driving laws because the seduction of our devices is always present. Our hands our tied to our phones even in the face of high penalties and physical injury.

It’s so easy to get stuck in a loop on our devices while the minutes tick by. That’s part of what makes technology so pervasive. Like we’ve discussed, we didn’t grow up with rules regarding the consumption of technology. So you’ll have to implement the rules yourself. But how can you make the rules without knowing what you’re already doing?

Let’s find the right recipe together. Here it is, the tofu and veggies of this book (or meat and potatoes if you prefer), the ingredients you can use to create more time without your devices.

1. Device-Free Spaces

These are physical spaces and locations in which devices are prohibited. All devices. Not just your personal ones. Technology is unwelcome and must remain elsewhere, like the kitchen if you head into the dining room for dinner. Or leave them in the bathroom or bedroom. It seems simple, but it works.

Try this:

Where do you spend your time?

Identify one place in which your device does not enhance your experience. One place it’s a detriment rather than a bonus. This is the perfect place to start.

Stop taking your device to this space.

It’s a simple idea but it’s harder to execute than you’d imagine. I can’t count how many clients I work with who get caught scrolling through social media feeds in bed and know they’d be better off prohibiting their phone from the bedroom. But they don’t stop. Number one reason: their phone is their alarm clock. Now, not to be cheeky, but if you can afford a smartphone, you can afford a bedside clock radio. Stop the excuses and head to the store to pick up a cheap alarm and ditch the technology.

And if you’re just running to the toilet, do you really need your phone?

2. Tech-Free Activities

Similar to having a physical space that’s free of devices, tech-free activities is defined by the time we spend on different events. It can be anything - personal time, work activities, social engagements - you get to decide.

Start by thinking about your regular activities. Hint: think about things you do all the time, like eating dinner, driving to work, and actually working.

Identify an activity in which you may feel better or more involved in the activity at hand if you were device free.

Stop using your phone during this activity. Like removing a device from space, now you’re removing it from time, too. I know, high tech stuff! Also, try telling others about your plan and see if you can start a trend!

...But don’t let it stop you if no one else catches on.

I love the idea of tech-free activities because it’s a bit more encompassing than a device-free space. It’s a whole added dimension after all! Space is limited to my home or office. By linking device-free time to an activity, my commitment to unplug is on my radar whether I’m eating dinner at home with my family or I’m in a restaurant with a colleague.

An added benefit of having a tech-free activity is being able to more fully engage with the activity itself. For example, I undertake a two kilometre walk every morning to take my son to daycare. This activity is technology free. Instead of a device, I get to hold his hand. I get to experience the crunch of ice under my toes. I look around at the world in the crisp beginnings of a brand new day and I sing songs with him while we walk towards new adventures.

3. Digital Sunset

As the sun sets on your day, why not allow your devices to retreat into slumberland as well? In the clinical world, checking in about device usage is part of the conversation I have when helping people with their sleep hygiene. Some people need to clean up their act when it comes to sleep, so they can be their best self the next day. Research shows that the backlit blue light screens of our phones hinders sleep. That research is telling us to stop our consumption of electronics 30 to 40 minutes before we want to get some zzz’s.

Food for thought: most of us would be able to put away our technology if it weren’t for the internet. Consider plugging your wifi router into a timer like the ones used for Christmas lights and program it to turn off every night at a certain time. Trust me, the inconvenience of having to get out of bed to turn the thing back on is a huge barrier!

Want a little help turning in for the night? Try “Goodnight iPad” by Ann Droyd for your bedtime story. And yes, in case you are wondering, there are digital sunset apps too.

Also, Ann Droyd - get it?

4. Time Limits

Can you remember being a kid and asking your parents for “just one more show?” We’ve all been there, scrolling our feed, and thinking ‘just one more thing.’ One more Netflix video? Another photo? Scroll until you find something that makes you feel uplifted?

Try this:

Draw a large circle on a piece of paper. This circle is a pie that represents your life.

Consider the time you spend on the following areas:

·      Sleep

·      Work

·      Commute

·      Friend time

·      Spouse time

·      Family time

·      Chores / Housework

·      Meal Prep / Consumption

·      Leisure Activities

·      Hygiene

Start slicing your pie according to how you spend your time. For this exercise, let’s slice in accordance with your average week. So, not the week in which you pulled a 60 hour workweek and not that in which you were on holiday.

What does your life pie look like?

You have 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, around 720 hours in a month, and 8760 hours in a year. How do you use that time? For many of my workshop participants, the life pie exercise ends up with a gap, an unaccounted for chunk of time.

...Until we consider technology and social media.

Now, in no way am I asking or telling you to give up the pleasures of technology completely. I think I’ve covered both sides of the conversation fairly equally in this book. That said, if it feels important, start setting some reasonable limits. Is 30 minutes per day on Facebook legit? Are you willing to give three and a half hours to Facebook every week week?

The decision is yours...

The Key to Unplugging

The best way to figure out how to unplug is to analyze your life and your relationship with technology. With the helpful ingredients you’ve collected, why not try to mix a few together and get more bang for your buck? For example, committing to a digital sunset is natural if it’s paired with tech-free space or tech-free time. Your digital-free space, like your bedroom, and tech-free time, like your nighttime routine, could be the kickstart you need to live life with less reliance on technology. Or perhaps time limits will be easier to implement. What if you reach your quota and then spend time in a device-free space doing a tech-free activity?

Sounds pretty relaxing to me.

Keep the broader goal in mind, but start by taking small steps in the right direction.


Further Research:

Schmerler, J. (September 1, 2015). Q&A: Why is blue light before bedtime bad for sleep? Source