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How I Disconnected from the Digital World to Regain Control of My Life

How I Disconnected from the Digital World to Regain Control of My Life

Our smartphones are never far away from our fingertips and in this digital world most of us couldn’t function without them. So how often do you use your phone? How many times during the day do you swipe, use apps, check social media, send messages or even just generally handle your phone?

Well, to really drive home how much we mindlessly touch and use our phones, a recent study[1] has revealed that we do this a whopping 2,617 times a day and that’s just the average – more heavy users can handle their phones up to 5,427 times a day.

How have we become so obsessed with the digital world and is it time to unplug ourselves from the mindlessness it provides us?

Why Is It So Hard To Unplug?

We’re all so dependent on technology that we rarely disconnect. Whether we’re spending hours in front of a computer for work, checking our phones, surfing the internet or watching TV, it’s hard to get away from digital distraction.

You may have attempted to go phone-free or deactivated your Facebook account in hope of a digital detox and we all know it feels good but only for the short-term. Before long we’re itching to see what we’re missing. In other words, we’re addicted. This can manifest in the feelings of withdrawal we get that causes us to dive straight back into the digital world where we feel safe and soothed again.

Many of us feel like our phones are a form of comfort – a lot of our social lives revolve around social media and instant messaging, so without this, we can feel secluded and alone.

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The Benefits of Disconnecting from the Digital World

Are we using technology or is technology using us?

Every happiness guru talks about mindfulness as a core importance in being connected with ourselves and the world around us, but our need for constant connection to technology means we’re depriving ourselves of this fundamental and necessary habit.

Our ability to focus has decreased dramatically and this is apparent in our productivity levels. The benefits of disconnecting can create a positive stance in all areas of our lives – from work and social connections to our own personal goals and dreams. If our productivity levels increase, we feel much more fulfilled, content and happy with our abilities. Life becomes more meaningful and less shallow.

How to Disconnect from Technology and Regain Your Life

If you feel your connection to the digital world has taken over your life, there are steps you can take to help you try to disconnect and allow you to take back some power.

1. Create a Technology-Free Space

Move your laptop into a dedicated room, put your phone charger in there so it can’t be charged next to you. When you allocate a certain place for your gadgets, you will have to physically go there to use them and so the inconvenience will lessen your want to go and check them.

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2. Don’t Sleep with Your Phone Next to You

Our sleep is being severely disrupted due to blue light being transmitted when using our phones or tablets in the dark. Our brains can’t switch off so easily and so it’s hard to relax and drift off. Put your device at the other side of the room so you can’t check it before bed, during the night or first thing when you wake up.

3. Go off the Grid for One Night a Week

Okay, so we rely heavily on being available to be contacted but for one night a week try switching off your phone, computer and tablet. Tell people they won’t be able to contact you via technology unless it’s an emergency. Don’t check social media or your messages, instead try reading an interesting book, experiment in the kitchen or go for walks.

4. Plan More Non-Digital Activities

Make a conscious effort to plan more activities that don’t include technology to keep yourself distracted. Plan a hike, bike ride, have a hot bubble bath, join a club, go to an exercise class, start a new hobby or take a trip to your local library and set yourself a challenge to read a certain number of books a week.

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5. Get Friends to Join You

Persuade a good group of friends to join you in your digital detox. Think of it as a support group – get together and do something that doesn’t involve technology or discuss the benefits you’re all feeling from disconnecting. This will reinforce the positive feelings and progress from going digital-free.

6. Start a Mediation Practice

Mindfulness is probably something you’ve heard a million times but it’s truly important in order to be present in the here and now. Try meditating for just 10 minutes a day and build it up. If you do this first thing in the morning you’ll set your mind up for a good day and you’ll start to see the benefits over time.

7. Be More Aware of Your Surroundings

Continuing the mindfulness theme, try making an effort to be aware of what’s going on around you. That includes sounds, smells, as well as sight. How often do we walk and look at our phones? Put your phone in your pocket and try a bit of mindful walking. Notice how you walk, the feeling, the action, what there is to look at, the sounds you hear – it’s quite shocking how much we don’t pay attention to the wonderful world around us when our nose is planted in our phones.

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8. Log out of Social Media

If deactivating your account is too much then consider logging out of social media every time you use it. It’s all too easy to hit the app and you’re instantly looking at your feed but if you have to type in your username and password every time, it’ll not only make you more aware you’re doing it but you’ll also start to see it as a hassle.

9. Disable Phone Notifications

It’s tempting to check our phones every time we get a notification so try turning them off and dedicate a time later to check up on anything important. This will seriously reduce the amount you needlessly check things that probably aren’t even important.

10. Install Social Media Blocking Apps

If you feel you’re one of the addicts who handles their phone 5,427 times a day then consider installing apps that block you from accessing social media apps. Offtime helps you unplug by blocking all the distracting apps and also creates data on how much you actually use your smartphone. Or if it’s your computer that’s stopping you from being productive, then SelfControl for Mac or ColdTurkey for Windows will really help.

We could all do with a bit of digital downtime, if not for our productivity levels then our sense of mental well-being. Be more mindful of how much you use and rely on technology and find little ways of filtering it out, make it a habit and start creating a happier life.

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Jenny Marchal

A passionate writer who loves sharing about positive psychology.

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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