Unplug From Technology

Do you check your email or your social media first thing when you wake up in the morning? If you’re like us, then the answer sadly is “yes!”

Of course, technology can be incredibly helpful and can increase productivity – but often then not, we become over-dependent—time to unplug from technology.

We’re constantly on our phones (an average of 86 times daily). Outside of getting sucked in, hurting our sleep, causing analysis paralysis, and making children more empathetic, there are lasting effects on the brain as well. Time for a digital detox.

Let’s do this together, and follow our 7-Day Digital Detox created by two engineers researching for a solution.

unplug from technology

Why I Decided to Unplug

I recently read about an engineering team at Intel who implemented “email-free” Fridays to promote face-to-face meetings, or at the minimum, phone calls. It got me thinking about my last corporate job.

The company is family-owned with only a few hundred at their Minnesotan headquarters. Still, I realized that there were people I had never met and only knew through email – despite being in and out of that office for the better part of a decade.

Even outside of the office, email, social media, and Google habits take over my life. Sometimes I feel like I can’t get started with my work if my computer desktop is messy. Or, I spend 30-minutes in bed every morning mindlessly trolling Instagram when I could have already finished a workout/meditation/made my apple cider vinegar tea/done anything remotely productive.

Plus, I can feel the weight of my 10,000 unorganized, not-backed-up phone images on my shoulders. Does anyone else feel this way? It was time to conduct a digital detox and spend some time unplugged.

So, as we always do, I decided to design an experiment and party like it’s 1999 (aka a time when I blissfully unaware of the world wide web).

Purpose

To research the science behind, and conduct, a digital detox.

Hypothesis

Learn how to organize my digital life more clearly moving forward will help reduce “digital stress” and allow me to focus on priorities. Following this 7-Day Digital Detox will help me remain unplugged from technology for the long term. 

Experiment

After considerable research, we designed, completed, and published our 7-Day Digital Detox. Don’t worry. It’s not the same one you’ve seen floating around Pinterest. Let’s get real, did “putting your phone on grayscale for a day” really help anyone focus better…? Ours is solid, and here it is:

Day 1:

One day 1 of our digital detox, back up your computer and cell phone. For our computers, we use an external hard drive (yes, a physical one) that we should honestly use more often than we do. Furthermore, studies show that ~25% of Americans have never backed up their computers.

It will be much easier for you to unplug from technology when you know your digital data is somewhere safe. On the rare occasion that something happens, you don’t want to realize that all of your photos and documents have been lost.

For our phones, we keep most of our data on apps that can be accessed across multiple devices, but I always copy my favorite photos onto my computer. Of course, there are ways to electronically backup your computer or phone as well.

Extra Credit: Do you have encrypted password’s yet? We have been using 1Password for 2 years now and it’s life-changing. We no longer have to remember dozens of passwords and they are all encrypted, especially our email passwords.

Day 2:

We spend the longest hours on our phone, so let’s detox your phone space. You can do this in your cell phone’s settings feature (for iPhones go to Settings > General > iPhone Storage.)

Your phone may give you suggestions on where you can clear your space as well as the data and last time used by each app. Even if you have plenty of space on your phone, this is a good indicator of where to start. Delete any apps that you don’t use.

Next, organize your apps by grouping them onto new screens or into folders. We prefer into folders, such as “Travel,” “Shopping,” “Social Media,” and “Misc.” This helps with the minimalist vibe. Plus, with organization comes greater ability to remain unplugged from technology.

We even suggest you find a fresh new wallpaper for your phone’s digitally detoxed serenity. Use a favorite picture, or download a free one from Unsplash. We love the images when searching for things like “forest” or “palm leaf” to set a fresh tone.

Day 3:

On day 3 of our digital detox, it’s time to tackle the photos, videos, and music on your phone. This will be time-consuming but critical. My finger is “trigger-happy” when taking photos, so I do my best to follow Marie Kondo’s digital advice and just keep my favorite one.

Keep it succinct, and we promise that you won’t even miss the other duplicates. In fact, saving fewer photos makes it easier to view them more often! Also, remove any music from your phone that you don’t listen to regularly. For me, that was every single song because I only ever use Youtube, Spotify, or Pandora. If there’s anything you’re unsure about, keep it and move onto the next.

When everything’s sorted, move your photos, videos, and music to your laptop for safekeeping and backup. After that, delete every photo, video, and song from your phone. Yes, everything! If there are some that you need to keep (like photos that you use for work) sure, keep them.

But trust us, no one really needs to see your photo album from a previous family vacation outside of the photos you already posted on your Facebook, Instagram, or Youtube. This. Is. Liberating.

Day 4:

Next, it’s time to repeat “Days Two and Three” but on your laptop. Now that you have an influx of media from your phone take the time to organize everything into clear folders. Personally, I keep my desktop clear and put everything into a “Documents” folder, sorted into subfolders like “Medical,” “Official Documents,” “Work,” “College,” “Photos,” “Videos,” and “Music.” Inside each of those folders are further sub-sub folders that include things like personal photos, an archive of our wedding, tax documents, etc.

Next, it’s time to back these up like on Day 1 on your external hard drive or wherever you chose. That may mean deleting and overwriting what you did on Day 1 which was a precaution in case you had deleted something throughout the week that you’d wished you’d kept.

Now, you can sleep well, knowing that everything you have is safe and sound. The final step is deleting everything that you don’t immediately need off of your laptop. It will make your laptop faster and even extend its life. Again, if you find you need a document, you know exactly where to find it in your backup.

Extra credit: Install the app f.lux on your computer and phone (Android only). If you have an iPhone, make sure you set your Night Shift settings. Both apps, dim and warm up your screen before bed, which can drastically improve your sleep.

Day 5:

Next, let’s tackle your email inbox. Ryan and I use our inboxes in entirely different ways. My goal is to have the “zero email inbox” which means that anything in there represents a to-do list item or something pending.

For Ryan, he stores a lot of his email in his inbox as his top “go-to’s”… something that I had to come to terms with once we created our joint email address, [email protected].

Whichever your method, create a strategy for your inbox and categorize everything else into tabs, labels, or folders. For things that don’t fit, archive them, as they’re only a keyword search away.

Take a look at the newsletters, promotions, and notification emails you’re receiving. Diligently unsubscribe from the ones you don’t need or actively use. Then, search for them and delete all of their old emails. I found that I had thousands of notification emails from Capital One dating back nearly a decade!

Once you’ve cleared out some junk and space, time to tackle your social media. If you think that your Facebook or Instagram is overtaking your life, ask a friend to change your password or close your account altogether.

If this seems too drastic (which it did for us), set aside two times a day that you’ll give yourself full freedom to login. Set a time limit, like 20-minutes at a time, and set a timer for it. Some apps can do this for you. One less thing to think about!

Day 6:

Outside of digital hoarding, are you also hoarding technology? Outside of a small cabinet of sentimental objects, it’s unlikely that you need any DVDs, let alone VHSs, or even CDs. Time to declutter any physical objects, which also includes TVs, cell phones (oftentimes they have a trade-in value or can be recycled), cameras, cords, floppy discs, and who knows what else.

As a rule of thumb, if you haven’t touched it within the last 6-months, you probably don’t need it. We love to sell these through platforms like Facebook Marketplace, which we prefer to Craigslist. Also, there are recycling bins for electronics at any Best Buy store.

For the high achievers who want to next level unplugging from technology, sell your TV. Ryan and I haven’t owned a TV since 2011… and guess what? We have never missed it. If there’s something you need to watch, like the Super Bowl or The Bachelorette, head over to a friend’s house, the community space in your apartment building, or a bar.

On average, Americans continue to watch a whopping 8 hours of television a day. It’s liberating. And honestly, if there is a show you want to watch, you can probably get the HBO or Netflix login from a family member – just delete the password once you’re done with your show!

Day 7:

For the final detox day of the “Unplug from Technology” challenge — unplug completely. Don’t Google anything. Don’t use maps. Yes, you can have a phone conversation, but that’s about it (so perhaps this is best to do on a non-workday!) Enjoy the simple hobbies of reading a book, taking a walk, heading out to a local market, or taking our 1-day at-home self-care retreat.

Our task for you, today, is to think of one positive habit that you can include into your week. Some ideas would be not to use a map app for a week and try to remember the directions beforehand, instead.

Or, to limit your TV watching to only 45 minutes a day and to buy yourself a good book instead. Or, to sign up to receive a physical newspaper like the New York Times instead of trolling their website mindlessly, as one article links to the next without thinking.

 

Conclusions

1. Improved memory.

Yes, your brain can actually remember things, so, NO you don’t need to “Google” it! Give it some credit! Also, it’s never pressing enough to kill a conversation to Google, “How much does a Hawaiian albatross weigh?” And yes, that is a real-world, recent example… * facepalm *

2. Spatial Awareness Increases.

“Death by GPS” is literally a term Death Valley rangers give to people who follow their GPS to tragic ends within their national park. Typically, using a map app isn’t so dire, but studies show that people who don’t use map apps (like London taxi drivers) have a larger-than-average hippocampus.

Navigation is a “use it or lose it” skill and, when not using it, can decrease your spatial awareness. During this week, I learned that it was a habit to look at my phone for directions, even when I knew where to go. Plus, it’s probably safer not having my phone out in Colombia…

3. A Pre-Determined Schedule is Freeing.

Setting parameters to check our social media and email was freeing. Instead of glancing down at every “ding!” I scheduled a designated two times a day to respond to messages and comments on our Instagram and Facebook. My productivity increased when I left my phone in another room. 

4. Your Important Documents Are Now Safe.

The process of giving my phone and laptop a “tune-up” not only showed me the health of my devices and reminded me to back-up important data, but it also revealed that I was a digital hoarder. To combat that, moving forward I will proactively delete extraneous photos the week I take them and be more selective about the apps I download.

In what ways do you take care of your digital health? Comment below!

Hey we're Ryan and Alex

The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “happiness engineers.” After eight years working as corporates engineers internationally, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — leading couples to engineer their best lives. The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship, as a couple.

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