How to unplug (even when you need to use your computer all the time for your job)

 
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A few weeks ago, I was getting out of my car in the morning to walk into work. It was a little chilly out, so I had gloves on. As soon as I put them on, almost by reflex, I immediately went to take one off so that I could use my phone while I walked inside. I had a little moment where I realized what I was doing and had to pause and ask myself: am I seriously so attached to my phone that I can’t even walk from my parking garage into the office without looking at it? I don’t know about you, but I seriously STRUGGLE with putting my phone away.

It’s kind of crazy how attached we get to our phones and technology, how we train our brains to need them. My little parking lot moment made me realize how distracting my phone and technology have become for me. They keep me from feeling focused and getting my work done in a timely fashion, which in turn keeps me from actively doing fun things I want to do in my free time (even if that’s just watching Netflix!). I wanted to make some changes, and doing that is especially challenging if you’re like me and your job requires that you be on your computer pretty much all day. But fear not! If you’re relating to what I’m saying and are ready to make a change, I wanted to share a few tips that have helped me to unplug a little bit.

Beginner Tips
(Some good starting points that won’t be too tough or disruptive!)

  • PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY
    • I mean away away. Like, in your bag, in a drawer, or in your coat pocket hung up at least 50 yards away from you. Seriously, just not having my phone sitting right in front of me all the time helps me so much to stop myself from picking it up without even thinking about it. If you have to move your body enough to actually pick up your bag and rifle through it to check your phone, you have a lot more chances to stop yourself from doing so, and I’ve done way better with this strategy than the ol’ “I need it facing up, right in the corner of my desk, juuuust in case something important comes up” one. Guess what? Nothing important has come up since I've started doing this. 
  • Quit your more distracting messaging apps, remove them from your dock, and turn off notifications
    • Believe me, I enjoy keeping up on my messages as much as the next person, but it is so freaking distracting to have that on your computer all the time, and for me, getting it off altogether makes it WAY easier to not feel like I need to be looking at my texts all the time.
  • Use the Focus plugin (or a similar one) on Chrome
    • All Focus does is allow you to create a list of your most distracting websites, set a timer for how long you want to block them and set an amount of time that you want to block them. I block Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Gmail (because getting caught up in non-work related emails is just as unproductive to my employer as my mindless scrolling is), and have started out by setting it for 45-minute blocks of time. After the time is up, I can log back on and check everything, then I put it right back on again. 
  • Buy a regular watch
    • I’m not a big Apple Watch fan. I know some people swear by them and I don’t judge at all, but I know that for me it would just be another way for me to be constantly checking all my apps and texts and email. I totally understand that for people with families or just in different circumstances than me, it’s important to be able to be reached at any time, and for those people the Apple Watch is a great solution. However, if you’re like me and no one REALLY needs to reach you on any kind of a regular basis, if your excuse is that you need to know what time it is, let me remind you that you can buy a regular watch that will do that very same thing, screen free!
  • Pick one thing each day that you’ll do without your phone on you
    • You could try ditching your phone every time you go to the bathroom, while you’re eating lunch in your company break room, while taking the elevator or walking up the stairs, as you go for a little walk during the day, or even just walking inside from your car. You don’t have to do everything at once, but picking one thing a day can help to make you more aware of just how often you are using your phone when you don’t really need to.
  • Try using an app like Headspace for meditation
    • I’ll be honest: I am super bad at this. I meditate maybe once a week if I’m lucky, but meditation is an amazing way to help quiet the noise and stress in your head a little and make your life FEEL more unplugged.

Advanced tips

(for when you feel like you’re ready to step away even more!)

  • Buy an alarm clock
    • Seriously, they are about $10 on Amazon and it makes it so much easier to not be relying on your phone first thing in the AM and last thing at night.
  • Leave your phone in your glove compartment during the day at work and go out at lunch to check it
    • I’ve tried this and it’s a little annoying but very effective. I can access my text messages on my computer so it really didn’t keep me from any important communication.
  • Remove email or other distracting or stressful apps from your phone
    • I have not done this yet but it’s a goal!
  • Delete any social media apps that you don’t really need to use on your phone
    • I.e., you’ll need to keep Instagram but you can probably delete Facebook and Pinterest if you’re like me and never update those on the go.

Notes

  • These are not rules by any means, and I’m not perfect in following them. Some of them may work really well for you, and some may not work at all, and that’s totally okay. It’s all about making adjustments that work for YOUR life, not what you should be doing or feel like you need to be doing.
  • If you find that you are TERRIBLE about checking your phone on certain days of the week but not others, don’t freak out about it or get mad at yourself. I think of it like meditation. I just try to observe how I’m doing, and to bring my attention back to what’s actively happening when I notice myself getting really sucked into my screens. The better you can get at noticing when you’re a litttttle too caught up with what’s happening on Insta stories, the better you can get at focusing your attention where it’s more productive and healthy for you! Some days it’ll be really easy, and some days it’ll be hard, and that’s okay.

That’s all! Even taking a few of these small steps has helped me to feel like I’m actively taking control of my technology habits and improving my complicated relationship with my phone.

And here are my final parting words for you: it’s probably okay if people can’t reach you all the time. It’s nice on your ego to feel like the emails and texts you’re getting are so urgent that they couldn’t possibly wait an hour, but I’m guessing that if you really think about it and push back, you’ll likely find that things aren’t quite as urgent as you (or your clients) think. I keep my phone on me when it makes sense for my personal safety, of course, but in a lot of situations people will really be fine if you can’t be reached for an hour or two. So don’t feel guilty about unplugging a little bit! There’s more to life than our phones out there