I made the decision on a Friday night after a terrible night of gaming. Playing video games used to be a release for me. But, somewhere along the way, I got older, I turned 49 recently, and slower. Which meant my ability to be competitive had pretty much evaporated. There is a reason that there aren’t many if any, 40+ competitive esports players.
After almost rage-quitting one of my favorite games, I decided it was time to step away. Not just from gaming but also from a list of other things that I felt were adding stress to my life.
This year has been a particularly challenging one. I am busier than ever at work and I’ve been battling with a health issue that we are just now getting under control. It isn’t perfect, but it’s better than it was.
There is no doubt that stress is a contributing factor to the intensity of my symptoms. So, I decided to institute a digital detox to see if that improved my stress levels.
What is a digital detox?
It’s amazing how much technology is a part of our lives. Just about everything has technology impeded in it these days. Just look around a typical household, it's staggering how many devices there are. Even things that don’t strike you as a technology device have a chip in them.
A typical digital detox involves removing devices and the internet from your daily life. Opinions vary on how long they should be. I personally went for three days.
How I unplugged?
The same Friday that I decided to go on a digital detox was the start of some vacation time. I knew that would make unplugging easier since, as a product manager at a technology firm, I work remotely from a laptop, and all of my meetings are virtual.
Since we decided to have a “staycation,” I knew the pull to play video games would be significant. So, I added some rules to help me stay unplugged.
Here were my rules of engagement for the three days:
- No video gaming unless our daughter asked me to play. That doesn’t happen much these days, so I didn’t want to miss a chance to play with her and her friends.
- No social media. My go-tos are Twitter for news and interacting with smart people and Instagram for laughs. When my Insta feed is showing me the right stuff, I can easily get caught up for hours scrolling. Congratulations algorithms. You work as designed.
- I turned on my do-not-disturb feature on my phone. I even went so far as to set it for text messages. This meant that if anyone other than my favorite contacts texted me, you would get an auto-reply that I was taking a break and would reply to you in a few days or longer.
- I went back to a paper journal versus using Notion. I used the journal to track my activities so that I could look back and see what I did to keep myself entertained. More on that in a moment.
- I took paper notes. Whether listening to a podcast or even when planning out this post.
What I did instead
One of the things that I noticed immediately was the importance of having other activities to keep me occupied. The pull to either game or scroll through social media was definitely strong. But, I had a predetermined list of activities I planned to fall back on.
My favorite was porch time. We have a screened-in porch with an absolutely beautiful backyard, thanks to my wife’s gardening skills. It is very private and draws a lot of wildlife, including a den of foxes that lives about forty yards from the house.
What I enjoyed about my porch time was the space it gave me to think. The act of sitting outside, listening to bird calls, with a cup of coffee and some incense burning, became almost ritualistic for me. If you’ve read about the rituals I followed while writing my latest book of 46,000 words in less than 90 days, then you shouldn’t be shocked at what all this entailed.
Sitting outside for an hour or more with nothing to distract me wasn't uncommon. This forced my brain into a quiet space where it was allowed to work through all the things I had been struggling with answers to. I also think of this as “staring at the ceiling time.”
Lots of reading
I used to be a voracious reader when I was a teenager and a young adult. Somewhere along the way, my reading shifted from a love of fantasy novels to reading business books. Eventually, that dried up.
During this digital detox, I’ve learned to enjoy reading again. Reading became my second go-to activity. However, I did find that I could only read so much at a time. Usually an hour or so. I suspect this is due to all the short-form content I’m used to consuming.
If you are curious, I’m working through a fantasy series I read decades ago by Tad Williams. I highly recommend it.
I did allow myself to watch some movies and shows. Particularly if that meant I was watching a show with my wife. This is one of the things we do together, and I didn’t want to miss out on that time together.
I watched two Iron Man movies by myself and a few episodes of the shows that we have going on as a couple, including a new one, Night Agent.
The movies came on the second full day of my detox when I was a bit burnt out with reading and in a not-so-great mood.
This one shocked me. I have never been a person who naps. Ever. But I napped at least three different times over the three-day detox. Two of those naps came on the same day. They usually lasted between 15-45 minutes.
I knew I had been running hard lately. I just didn’t know how hard. Apparently, I was spent between my day job, running a small business, writing, my health issues, and all my other responsibilities as a husband and father.
While I felt a little fuzzy after those naps, I realized that they left me feeling very energized the following day. I’ve said before that getting the right amount of sleep is a superpower.
Results of my digital detox
As I type this article out, I’m sitting on my porch. I’ve just finished about an hour of sitting and listening to the birds while drinking coffee. Following that, I did about 30 minutes of yoga. I’ve got my writing ritual in full swing. The incense is burning, and some soft music is playing.
So, how do I feel about my digital detox, and what are my plans going forward?
I’ll admit that staying away from my devices was really hard. On many occasions, I felt myself reaching for my phone just for something to do with my hands to keep my brain engaged. Which really defeats the purpose.
How long is enough for a detox?
It wasn’t until late on the third day that I felt like I had settled into things. So, if you decide to try your detox, my advice is that you need a minimum of three days and should really target longer. Something like five days might be just about perfect.
What activities will I keep doing, and which will I keep not doing?
Although this ritual is hard to keep in the winter due to the cold, I plan to continue my porch time ritual. At one point, we looked into turning the space into a four seasons room. This exercise has me reconsidering doing that, just so I can spend even more time out here.
This is another activity I plan to continue. After I finish book two of the Tad Williams series, I already have three more books set aside. Two of them are fantasy novels, and the third is about hosting social events.
I’ll keep watching shows with my wife. It’s something we enjoy doing together. I never was one to watch a lot of TV, but I will allow myself to watch movies and shows that interest me.
I still don’t consider myself a fan of napping. At least not regularly. That said, I do plan to pay attention to my body, and when I reach a level of fatigue where using naps to reset things makes sense, I plan to pull that trigger.
On the final day of my detox, I felt the pull to play some video games. But I realized that would only likely frustrate me and bring me out of my peaceful state. It was almost a repulsive feeling.
As of right now, I plan to avoid competitive games. The level of frustration makes those not worth my time. I may allow myself to play some single-player games, and I will definitely play games with my daughter when she asks.
My plan is to continue limiting time on social media. I’m considering setting a time limit. Something like thirty minutes or an hour a day, tops. I’ve always told myself that I need to be on social media for my businesses. It’s been more about branding and distribution of content. With that the case, thirty minutes a day makes sense as an investment.
Paper vs. digital journaling and notes
I’m going with handwritten journaling and notes. Notice that I didn’t specifically say paper. What’s the distinction? I may go back to using digital apps that allow handwriting for journaling and note-taking. Using digital resources allows for better organization and is cheaper in the long run since I have already bought a template I can repeatedly reuse versus needing to buy paper journals every 90 days. I will finish this quarter using the paper journal I have started with and decide how to proceed from there. The one thing I am cautious about with digital journaling and notes is that it will be a little too easy to get distracted by emails coming in or absentmindedly clicking on a social media app.
I can now say that my digital detox did what I had hoped it would do. It gave me the space to put in some deep work and think about where I was going wrong lately. To see where all my frustration was coming from.
I’ll go into details about that another time. For now, I will say that I was not being true to myself in many ways. I was working on things that didn’t excite me. I was allowing myself to be stretched too thin by not saying no to enough things.
Whenever you find yourself really frustrated, I suspect what is happening is that you aren’t being authentic to your true self.
That is when a digital detox can make sense. To force you to remove lots of distractions and spend time doing some deep work.
I plan to schedule quarterly digital detoxes as a defense against ending up here again.
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