Almost two years ago now, I spent two weeks off-grid on a vegan permaculture farm. One of my initial concerns was the lack of internet connection on the site. I was used to using the internet all day, every day – how would I cope?
Excellently, as it turned out. I was surprised to find I didn’t miss the internet one bit. I kept my phone switched off whenever possible to conserve battery, and had little desire to turn it on other than for the odd phone call to loved ones.
When we walked to the nearest pub to use the Wi-Fi, I found I didn’t really want to. I opened my email and was suddenly struck by the pointlessness of the messages which had piled up there. That was a turning point for me. When I got home, I made some serious changes. Today, I’m going to talk about those changes, as well as some others I’ve made since then. I hope it will be of help to anyone who’s struggling with their relationship to technology.
Unsubscribe from emails
Unsubscribe from all those mounting emails which aren’t useful to you or aren’t bringing you any joy. I kept unsubscribing till I was only receiving a few emails a day – no more spending half an hour dealing with them every morning. I highly recommend it – just don’t unsubscribe from my emails, please. 😉
While we’re on the subject of emails, stop checking them constantly – especially if you’re waiting for a particular one! It will only make you feel worse. In his book The 4 Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss recommends setting up an autoresponder for your work email, informing colleagues that you will only be checking emails once or twice a day at specific times. You can then give them the option to call you if it’s urgent, eliminating the need to constantly refresh your emails.
On a similar note, unfollow social media accounts that make you feel bad about yourself. It’s great to follow inspirational people, but if you find yourself feeling jealous or frustrated then it’s time to say goodbye. And remember that no-one’s life is perfect as it looks on social media.
Turn off push notifications
These days, I can’t even imagine getting a notification every time I get an email or someone likes one of my posts on social media. It would drive me mad! When you know you have a notification, it’s hard to resist looking at it, just in case it happens to be something important (it never is!). So turn off all but the most vital notifications. My personal exception is Facebook Messenger, since it’s nice to have conversations in real-time. But I mute noisy group chats so I won’t get too distracted. With other apps, I just check for notifications whenever I happen to open them.
Speaking of which, ask yourself whether the apps on your phone are helping or hurting you. I deleted the Facebook app long ago because I was sick of getting sucked into scrolling down my news feed. It felt so pointless, but I couldn’t seem to stop! Now I just have Messenger, so I can keep in touch with friends whilst avoiding the news feed. I use the mobile site or my laptop to check notifications every couple of days or so. I also stopped using Tumblr, as I felt it was needlessly sucking my time away.
If you can’t bear the thought of separating yourself from your news feed, at least set a timer. Allow yourself ten minutes and no more, so it’s a treat rather than a time-waster.
Another thing you can do is switch off the WiFi on your phone when you don’t need it. This can reduce the temptation to reach for your phone whenever you’re bored.
Take a digital sabbatical
This is an idea I originally stumbled across on someone else’s blog – I wish I could remember whose. Basically, it means spending at least a day away from your phone and computer every now and then, perhaps once a week. If it sounds hard, that’s all the more reason to do it! I often end up inadvertently taking a digital sabbatical at the weekend when I hang out with friends; I’m having such a good time that I completely forgot about my phone. (I might use my laptop for a yoga video, but I think that’s forgivable.)
Digital sabbaticals are an opportunity to balance screen time with getting out into the real world. Like me, you may discover that you don’t even want to go back. And it can ease your fear of missing out – I often feel stressed about going back to my emails after a weekend away, only to find I haven’t missed anything urgent whatsoever.
Be mindful of your body
When you’ve been on your phone or computer for too long, your body will let you know. You may feel stressed, tense or hunched over. Personally, I’m prone to repetitive strain injury in my hands if I use the computer too much. Don’t ignore these warning signs. Use them as a reminder to get up, stretch, go for a walk, or do some yoga. Again, a timer can be useful – it’s advisable to take breaks at least every hour. And maybe invest in a standing desk if you spend a lot of time working on the computer.
I’ve started writing out the first drafts of my articles and blog posts on paper. It means I can sit and write without having my laptop open in front of me, and it reduces the amount of time I spend staring at a screen.
It’s often worth rediscovering older ways of doing things. A quick phone call, for example, is an easier way to arrange something than a long series of texts. And I’ve taken to making the effort to go into town rather than shopping online – it gets me out of the house, if nothing else.
Switch off before bed
I talk a lot about the importance of avoiding screens in the evenings. I think it’s best to put them away a couple of hours before you go to bed to give yourself time to wind down. Read a book, take a bath, spend time with family. Going to bed all switched on is a recipe for insomnia.
You may need to find some non-screen-related hobbies if you’re used to being on your phone all the time. Things like board games, puzzles, gentle exercise or arts and crafts can be good options, but you do you.
I’m not saying we should all ditch technology, just that we should use it mindfully. For example, a Skype call with my family brings real value into my life, whereas binging on cat videos does not. But it’s up to you to make the distinction!
I do still spend a lot of the day at my computer – it’s just the nature of my work. But I feel that staying mindful of all these things has helped me to find a relatively healthy balance.
Do you think you have a healthy relationship with technology? What would you like to change? Let me know in the comments.
P.S. I just made an Instagram for Little Green Seedling, and I’m really excited about it. Come say hello!