Today I’ll share the results of an experiment I did over the holiday break – I resolved to not look at my phone for five days.
Nor did I look at my laptop. I’m not talking about just avoiding calls and emails. I flat-out didn’t look at them.
I was trying to kick the habit I wrote about a couple weeks ago – needing near-constant informational stimuli that started in March with the pandemic and has continued through the election.
The main takeaway:
I didn’t realize until after it was done how absolutely necessary this was for my emotional health and professional effectiveness.
The first couple days were hard. My brain kept coming up with excuses for why I should “just check the weather” or something else like that. I constantly felt like I was missing something.
On the flip side, the last couple days were awesome. Didn’t miss my phone at all. Went significant portions of the day not even knowing where it was. And that carried over into “re-entry.” I had envisioned a binge as soon as my self-imposed deadline ended. But it turned out that my brain doesn’t “need” all those texts, emails, and social updates like it thought it did. Didn’t miss them by the end. In fact, I kinda had to force myself to dig back in.
Some steps that helped me stay true to the goal:
Before the experiment, I thought of anyone who might have a legit need to reach me within five days' notice, and I let them know. This included my kids, team at my business, and the people I serve in my volunteer work. I simply told them, “I’m going to be away from my phone until Saturday. If there’s an emergency, call Amy (my wife).”
I set an autoresponder on my email that referred people to my team. Of course I gave my team a heads-up about the experiment and empowered them to handle most things.
When I returned to the phone:
When my deadline ended, I had only 20 percent as many text messages as usual – probably the time of year has something to do with that, along with my heads-up to the people who contact me most. More than half of those were long threads on group texts that were quick to catch up on. Only six required me to send a meaningful response.
I would report how many emails I had, but I don’t know. My autoresponder asked people to either contact my team, or email again after I returned. So when I got back, I bulk deleted all the email that came in over the experiment (in the hundreds somewhere).
Turns out ONE of those was meaningful and I missed it – I asked someone at a company I work with for some info, and he replied that his colleague had already sent it the week before. I searched the archive and found it – no harm done.
The main thing I noticed was how much time I spent without stimulus. When I was in a situation where I needed to wait for something, I just waited. Went on two hourlong walks with no podcasts or phone calls – amazing.
I read books a lot more than usual, and loved it (re-read the 4-Hour Workweek and got through one-third of Barack Obama’s gigantic memoir).
Also spent a lot more time talking with my wife.
As far as I know, none. Maybe some people didn’t like getting my autoresponder? Maybe a few of the people who texted me would have appreciated a faster response? They might think that, but no one has said anything.
I know not everyone has a team they can refer incoming emails to, or a significant other to refer important calls to. But I hope that this little experiment can empower you to confidently “unplug” for longer periods of time, and enjoy the emotional benefits that are sure to come.
I’m definitely in a much better mindset to reach my goals for the new year than I was before the experiment.
This article was originally published on January 13, 2021
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