Read this (then put your phone away!)

OCTOBER 2016 | HEALTH & WELLBEING

Since having my daughter I’ve stepped away from the corporate rat race and had time for a spot of self-reflection and life assessment. The result of which was the recognition that there’s some room for improvement. Hence I’ve decided to go on a journey of little changes to make me a bit happier and healthier; more organised; less of a procrastinator; a better person etc.

So you’re now wondering, what does this have to do with getting off your phone? Good question. And in answer – one of those little life change areas is to be more focused, more productive, less distracted. But how do I actually, practically, go about doing this? I’ve got the books to read, the time planners at the ready, the goal setting and habit creation research downloaded. None of them are a quick fix. And then I realised there was one thing I could do straight away and that was to acknowledge how much time I spend on my phone.

My mobile phone – aka ‘the distractor’

It was my daily meditation practice that first made me question the amount of time I spent on my phone (ironic I know given that I use an app on my phone to do this meditation but I think the ends justify the means in this case.) Anyhow, back to the point, I logged into my Calm meditation app and started the “7 days of FOCUS” program. My meditation trainer as I like to think of her asks me to think about ‘what distracts me most during the day,’ I need to be honest with myself (she says). To tame my distracted mind I need to know what it is that undermines my focus most, only then can I be aware enough to press the pause button and refuse to let my attention be pulled.

It’s common-sense, but have I ever stopped to think about what distracts me most? No. So here goes. A day spent noticing when my focus is being led astray and I’ve identified my main ‘distractors’…my phone, my to-do list, Facebook, the house-work, rumination on past conversations / situations / things that I could or should have done differently – and my daughter, love you darling but wow you take up a lot of my time!

With my distractors now clear in my mind I can start to tackle them one by one [and I may well bore you with the details of that at another time] but first up I’m taking on ‘operation phone’.

It’s not just me

Recent research by Ofcom suggests that most adults spend more than 8 hours a day using technology devices – television, phones, ipads etc – that’s more time than most of us spend sleeping. The survey also found that 59% of those (adults and teens) surveyed were devoted to their devices – with many checking their phones up to 150 times a day! A third said they really struggle to disconnect and half find themselves completely caught up in their virtual world, spending much longer online than they intended.

Adults today spend about 25 hours a week on their mobile and 80% say the first thing they do each morning is check their phone. And it’s not just our own time that’s being eroded by our mobile obsessions, it’s also our connection with people that’s suffering. Four in ten feel ignored by friends, family and partners who spend more time on their phones than they do actually engaging in face-to-face communication.

Our wellbeing is also taking a hit. A study by the National Institute of Mental Health has found a strong link between social media use and depression. Other studies have linked Facebook to low self-esteem. Mobile phones affect our attention spans, our ability to concentrate, and stop us from getting stuff done – 40% of teens don’t do homework because they’re too busy on their digital devices. We let our phones disturb our sleep and we’ve become an ‘always available’ culture, where we don’t switch off enough – leading to stress, anxiety and emotional exhaustion.

What’s the best use of my time?

Aware that I was at risk of becoming one of these glued-to-my phone statistics, I downloaded Moment, an app (again, the irony of more time spent downloading an app) that tracks how long you spend on your mobile phone. On a ‘good’ day I will be on my phone for an hour, at my worst it is closer to 3 hours.

Three hours on my phone – 180minutes (potentially every day) that I could have spent on more important things.

It’s hard though. We use our phones to stay in touch, to be part of online communities, to keep an eye on what’s happening in the world. If I take a day off my phone, there might be an emergency; people might feel ignored; personal admin won’t get done; I end up out-the-loop and on catch up responding to the 30 messages I ignored the day before.

But when I do step away from my mobile it makes me realise how often I’m on auto-pilot, picking up my phone almost without thinking, it’s become the norm to regularly check-in with my online-world, trawling through mindless Facebook drivel or on responsive mode feeling I have to read a message or reply to an email as soon as I get the alert.

I’ve got to find the balance. While it’s amazing that we have information and interaction available with one swipe of our phone; it’s also super addictive and often an unnecessary distraction. My daughter gave me a playful (but well-deserved) nudge the other day when I started replying to a message and stopped dancing with her. It’s the sort of wake-up call I need. What’s more important? What am I not getting done because of time spent on my phone? What am I missing out on in the real-world because I’m too distracted in my online bubble?

A realistic digital detox

Most of us can’t hurl our phones in the bin or switch off for weeks on end. Our jobs, our families, our social networks mean that for most of us some phone/online tech time is needed. But, how about we decide to take a mini-break from our digital devices. Give ourselves an opportunity to step away from online auto-pilot and see what we notice.

Here are some ideas to get started on a realistic digital detox…

  • Be honest about how much time you spend on your phone – use Moment or a similar app to track your usage for a week.
  • Once you know how much time; then just be aware and think how else you could spend that time.
  • Break the habit. Don’t reach for your phone first thing every morning or last thing at night. Ask yourself each time you unlock your phone, is this the best use of my time?
  • Use a watch and an alarm clock instead of your phone
  • Don’t bring your phone into the bedroom at night
  • Turn off notifications and alerts
  • Leave your phone in your bag when you’re out on date night or meeting your girl friends – don’t even have it on the table – put it on vibrate for calls so you know if there’s an emergency back home but otherwise don’t check it until the end of your night. Give the person you’re with your full attention. In some places, like The Gin Tub in Hove, they’re forcing you off your phone!
  • Walking, waiting, work commute – don’t reach for your phone straight away. Take a book. Listen. Look around. Smile or say hello to someone. Our default is to pick up our phones but it doesn’t have to be that way.
  • Don’t use your phone when you eat. Just eat.
  • Photos are good but don’t spend more time capturing the perfect Instagram shot than you do actually enjoying the moment.
  • Tell people what you’re doing so they don’t think you’ve gone whatsapp AWOL on them
  • Decide how you’re going to restrict your tech time – an evening curfew at which time your digital devices get put away until the morning, use of software to limit the amount of time spent online or to block you from certain sites that distract you during the day.
  • Have one digital free day a week or at least a decent chunk of a day
  • Get involved with digital detox initiatives like Time To Log Off.

I’d love to hear if you’ve given digital detoxing a go. What’s worked best for you?

Right, that’s enough time wasted reading this post. Put your phone away now. Go on, you can do it…

 

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