Sunday is National Unplugging Day, where we’re asked to switch off (technology) in order to switch on (mentally). But in the days of digital dependency, asks life coach Karen Campbell, is this easier said than done?
The other morning I was waiting for a train at St Pancras. Next to me a little girl with her parents was waiting for the same train. Once aboard, the little girl (and her teddy) stood on the seats, waving to people on the trains coming in before ours. Do you know how many people waved back from a packed train? One. One man waved. This made me happy at this lovely man, but also sad that we just don’t look up more.
This Sunday is the second National Unplugging Day, an initiative aimed at parents to stop them being distracted by the beeping and buzzing of technology and instead spend quality time with the kids. As far as I’m concerned, kids or no kids, we should all get involved.
We can all be slaves to technology, becoming part of the dead-behind-the-eyes brigade shuffling on and off the bus while scrolling through Facebook/Instagram/Twitter. But by turning off, looking up, smiling at people, reading an actual book or just daydreaming, our happiness, awareness and our relationships can significantly change for the better.
Gadgets are like crack: addictive and moreish yet can turn us into the most boring, unresponsive and antisocial people to be around. (For the record, I have never done crack, but it did once feature in an episode of The Bill, hence my knowledge.)
Gadgets can rule our lives and impact our relationships, seeing us drop everything with a single beep, but it doesn’t need to be that way. We need to rule technology, not the other way around and learn that the key to a healthy digital relationship is all about balance and boundaries.
“Got a digital vampire in your social circle? Set boundaries. Instead of having them WhatsApp you every 10 minutes, arrange a designated time to chat when it’s convenient for both of you.”
In the ever-evolving digital world, the need for switch-off has not gone unnoticed. Posh digital detox holidays encouraging us to replace the zap for the zen are popping up, as are festivals with no gadgets allowed so, god forbid, we can actually watch a gig with our eyes, not through the four-inch smartphone screen of the person in front of us. These can only be good, and much needed, ideas – but the benefits can be achieved closer to home.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-devices: phones, tablets and the like are all wonderful inventions that enrich our lives for the better. But there needs to be balance. Did you know that the average person checks their phone 85 times a day (that’s about a third of the time we’re awake)?
We all know that person who’s always on their phone, always checking social media or emails. Why is it so vital? What might they miss in the 30 minutes it would take to eat a meal in peace and actually have a conversation? The need to have their phone as much part of them as their right hand has become habitual – but all habits can be broken:
• A good place to start is to do an honest technology audit – note: honest. Take an average day and write down (with a pen!) how much time you spend on social media, email, browsing, looking at pictures of Tom Hardy* etc. You’ll be surprised at how many hours rack up.
*About 20 mins a day for me – I’m being honest.
• Write a digital timetable for your week and stick to it. Give yourself a designated time in the morning to check social media (15 mins max) and emails. For emails, significant research by productivity experts has led to the advice we should only check emails for an hour at the beginning and the end of each day, with the time in-between solely spent working. Turn email notifications off and try it. Remember you don’t have to reply to everything immediately. Have a read of Tim Ferriss’s The 4 Hour Work Week for inspiration (he’s a millionaire by the way).
“We all know that person who’s always on their phone, always checking social media or emails. Why is it so vital?”
• Make sure you have routines and occasions that don’t involve technology (preferably meal and bed times). Use those times to focus on the physical world, engage in conversations and relax. Have no technology for at least an hour before you go to sleep: have a bath, light a candle, read a book and relax. See how your sleep gets better.
• Look up more – I go back to my original point of the little girl. Enjoy your free time and use it as a time of reflection, planning or just be in the now and embrace what’s happening around you; you’ll be amazed how much more you see and hear.
• Get out more. Go for walks, get into nature and leave the phone at home. See how liberating it feels.
• Give loved ones, colleagues and friends your full attention as there’s nothing more disheartening than feeling someone’s not really listening because their vibrating pocket is more interesting than what you’ve got to say.
• Got a digital vampire in your social circle? Set boundaries. Instead of having them WhatsApp you every 10 minutes, arrange a designated time to chat when it’s convenient for both of you and fits around your life.
• Declutter. Get rid of apps you don’t use, have a Facebook ‘friends’ cull, look at your Twitter followers, tidy your desktop, clear inboxes so that when you are in your digital world, it’s specific and there’s less chance of time wasting.
• Reward yourself for a successful digital diet with something for you – make it worth it.
More advice on attaining the life you want at Karen’s website: http://www.your-lifecoach.com.
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Karen Campbell is a life coach at www.your-dreamcatcher.com. She likes gin, James McAvoy and pretending she's not from Scunthorpe.