The Digital Detox for Remote Knowledge Workers


We live in an increasingly connected world. 

News, work, communication—it’s at our fingertips 24/7. Our devices make it possible to stay connected from almost anywhere. We’re plugged into what’s happening in the world every moment of the day. 

If you're reading this, you might've noticed ways that using technology has negatively affected your mental health and wellness. You might be among the increasing number of people grappling with an addiction to technology, and you’re not alone. 

We reap enormous benefits from our technology, but constant connectivity has its drawbacks. Having a healthy relationship with our tech is more important than ever.

Here is where a digital detox fits in. Let’s take a closer look. 

What is a digital detox?

Don't get the wrong idea: technology isn't inherently bad. In fact, it's useful for how we live and work day-to-day. Yet, too much of anything has potential for consequences.

At its core, a digital detox is a break from this constant connectivity. During a digital detox, you employ rules that restrict how you interact with technology, or you abstain from the use of technology completely. The aim is to spend less time using the technology that is having a negative impact on your wellbeing. You’re unplugging from the digital world in favor of reimmersing yourself in real life. It’s tricky to juggle tech use and stay present without setting clear boundaries. 

In the long term, a digital detox aims to create balance that feeds into a healthy relationship with technology. 

A digital detox is an opportunity to reflect on how you engaged with technology on a daily basis. Most people turn to digital detoxes only once their relationship with technology has started having a negative impact on their well-being and productivity

Here’s a tip: The more effective approach is to regularly examine how you’re using tech and how it’s making you feel. But more on this later. 

From here, you set guidelines that inform how you use your digital devices. Let’s start by looking at some tips to keep in mind as you embark on your tech-free period of time.

The rules of a digital detox

We can sum up the rules of a digital detox in two words: disconnect and sustainability. 

Now, we're not recommending a week in a rural cabin without an Internet connection or a cell phone (although you can absolutely do this if you want). In truth, few people have the luxury of entirely disconnecting from their technology. This also isn’t a long-term, sustainable solution. 

We are, however, recommending that you conduct a digital detox that morphs into sustainable daily practices. These practices will influence your relationship with technology for the better. For most of us, creating a set of attainable rules for how we engage with our tech is the best course of action. 

Completely unplugging for a period of time is what some people need. But what good is a digital detox if you return to your old habits once the detox time period is over? Odds are you’ll need another fully-disconnected detox sometime in the near future. 

An effective digital detox is a realistic one. Don't set rules for yourself that you won't be able to meet or maintain. Huge changes to your daily life can be helpful, but make sure you can keep up with the changes to actually experience long-term results. 

One trick is to start small. Once you're used to one change, make another. You can slowly cut back on your use of technology to experience the benefits of a detox.

Bottom line: Think long-term. For a digital detox to be effective, it needs to be realistic. Don't create tech-free rules that you can't maintain. Complete detoxes are great. Sustainable practices for long-term technology use are even better. 

Now, here are the signs that it could be time for a digital detox.

How to determine if you need a digital detox

You’ll recognize it’s time for a digital detox when you notice technology having a negative impact on your well being. Here are some telltale signs it might be time to disconnect: 

  • You instinctively reach for your phone during any downtime.
  • You check your cell phone first thing in the morning.
  • You feel like you have to take your cell phone with you everywhere.
  • You compare yourself to others on social media resulting in lower self-esteem.
  • You find it difficult to focus on tasks for long periods of time.
  • You've noticed increased eye strain or headaches after looking at screens for extended periods.
  • You always have your phone out when spending time with family and friends.
  • You've noticed increased anxiety, poor sleep, and negative mood.
  • You've noticed the amount of time you spend looking at your phone has increased.

Are any of these experiences relatable? If the answer is “yes,” it's time to consider a digital detox.

Social media detox

The first step for many folks embarking on a digital detox is to cut back on social media. After all, there’s a heavily-studied link between social media and poor mental health

There are three clear signs that it's time to take a break from social media:

  1. Your anxiety levels have increased
  2. You're comparing yourself to people you see online
  3. You feel drained and low-energy after scrolling social media

When setting boundaries with social media, you might only allow yourself to scroll for one hour daily or be on social media only during your lunch break. 

Most cell phones allow their users to set time limits for app usage. You can customize how long you spend on each app before you're alerted that you've hit your time limit. After that, your phone grays out social media apps, making it less easy to start scrolling. 

For some, getting an alert that it's time to get off social media isn't enough. In this case, delete the apps from your phone. Removing the apps doesn't mean you're deleting your accounts—it helps reduce the temptation to check the apps. If deleting the apps from your phone feels intimidating, consider trying it for one or two weeks. See how you feel without it for that time. At the end, ask yourself if you missed social media. 

How to do a digital detox

Turn off push notifications

First, set your device to Do Not Disturb during certain hours of the day or turn off push notifications. The temptation to check your phone when you see a long list of notifications is often too great. Quiet notifications from social media, Slack, email, or any other app you regularly check.

Updates from your phone are rarely urgent. Your brain gets a blast of dopamine every time your phone buzzes, which makes it hard to turn away. It’s best to avoid getting the alert to begin with.

Make your bedroom a no-technology space

Do you spend hours scrolling on your cell phone in bed before going to sleep? This kind of smartphone use is likely to have a negative impact on your sleep. Exposure to the blue light emitted from the screen can make falling and staying asleep more difficult.

If you use your cell phone as an alarm, your phone is the first thing you see in the morning and the last thing you see in the evening. It’s hard to resist checking your phone when it's sitting right next to you. Remove it. 

Establish your bedroom as a no-tech space and charge your devices outside it.

Designate no-tech hours

The morning and evening are the worst times of the day to scroll on your cell phone. These times also happen to be when more people are active on social media. Take stock of when you need access to your phone and when you don't. Now, designate parts of your day as tech-free. 

During this time, avoid replacing one form of technology with another. Practice your hobby, go for a walk, read, or enjoy another activity that doesn't revolve around digital devices.

Put away your phone during meals

When was the last time you ate a meal where not a single cell phone was present? For most of us, it's been a long time. Eating is one of the best times to practice being present. Whether dining with a friend, family member, or yourself, ditch the device. Focus on preparing your meal and assemble it on your plate in a way that looks appealing to you. Have a conversation with a loved one that isn't interrupted by pings from your mobile devices or laptops. Put away your phone and savor the moment.

Put away your phone while socializing

There should be no reason to have phones out while socializing. When you're with family and friends, you want to be the most present. Connecting with loved ones is crucial to our well-being. Toss a cell phone into the mix, and this connection can get lost. 

If you struggle to avoid checking your phone during social gatherings, leave it somewhere out of reach. A jacket pocket or bag that you store in another room will work. Go out of your way to be present by putting the phone away.

Tips for creating a healthier relationship with your tech

At its finest, a digital detox establishes new habits that foster a healthy relationship with your tech. The trick is maintaining these new habits once you're through your detox. A digital detox does you little long-term good if you return to old habits once it’s over. 

To get the most long-term benefits, you want to build habits that stick. Here are some tips for maintaining a healthy relationship with your devices post-detox.

  • Pay attention to your screen time and set screen limits.
  • Only allow push notifications for specific apps.
  • Dedicate time every day to getting outside without a device.
  • Remove technology from your space at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Invest in a traditional alarm clock that you love.
  • Engage in a hobby you enjoy that doesn't involve screens.
  • Stay mindful. Pay attention to how you feel before, during, and after your digital detox.

How long should you do a digital detox?

The length of your digital detox is personal. You can step away from technology anywhere from a few days to several weeks. Ultimately, you decide the length of time that will be the most effective for you. 

We recommend you start with a few days or one week. Set clear and realistic guidelines that you can follow. Be wary of setting goals that are too strict and impossible to achieve. You can always start with small goals that you build on later.

So, with all this said, how will you know that a digital detox is working? 

In general, you’ll know a digital detox is working when you notice a decrease in the symptoms you were experiencing prior to the detox. Some positive effects you might experience are as follows:

  • Increased focus and general well-being
  • Feeling less anxious and more relaxed
  • Feeling more connected with your surroundings and loved ones
  • Reduction in the need to have your phone near at all times
  • Increased interest in non-tech hobbies and activities

If one strategy for a digital detox doesn’t work for you, try another. What’s effective for your friend might not work well for you and vice versa. Be willing to try new techniques to see what will lead to a successful digital detox. 

Still can't completely disconnect? Take a vacation!

As we mentioned before, digital detoxes look different for everyone. Some people need small changes to reap the benefits of a detox while others need a full disconnect. 

We stress the importance of long-term healthy habits with technology. However, we also recognize that sometimes stepping away to break the cycle of tech use is a helpful jumping-off point for transforming your relationship with technology. 

If you still feel drained by technology after detoxing for a period of time, consider taking a longer break.

Should you have the means, go somewhere you can disconnect. Go on vacation and leave your phone behind at the hotel. Take some time off for a staycation. Spend time outdoors and with friends while leaving your phone at home. 

You have options for how to disconnect—the trick is finding the one that will work best for you and sticking to it. 

How Sunsama helps you take a digital detox

Here at Sunsama, we focus on supporting sustainable ways of working. Not everyone can remove technology from their lives entirely—many of us rely on it. You can still take a digital detox by setting simple operating rules for how you use tech, even if you need to log onto your computer each day for work. Sunsama can help you do it. 

Sunsama’s daily planner helps you organize your schedule to foster sustainable productivity. Pause notifications to settle into a deep workflow and check everything off your task list. We’ll help you work efficiently during working hours so you can fully disconnect during non-working hours. 

The goal is to help you build habits with technology that allow you to truly disconnect during your personal time. These habits will help you work sustainably and effectively.

Try Sunsama for free today to create a realistic schedule and task list that supports healthy, long-term productivity.

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