November 14, 2022

Digital Detox for Entrepreneurs: Clear Your Headspace

Samantha Bell

Tips to Reduce Stress and Distraction

We all rely on technology to conduct business and maintain relationships. But it's important to take breaks and allow your mind to decompress. Especially in the life of a tech entrepreneur, being online is hardly optional, but it should never take a toll on life offscreen. The algorithms that govern the digital sphere are created specifically to learn what we like and give us more of it, and it can be an uphill battle trying to fight against temptation. It's difficult enough simply managing the onslaught of information that comes with being plugged in 24/7, socially and career-wise. Since the majority of people around us are also preoccupied with their devices, it may sometimes feel like we have no choice but to check that notification, respond to that text, share that picture, or binge that series. But participating online can be demanding, whether for work or play, and we should cultivate the ability to extricate ourselves from the virtual world – and take full advantage of every day.

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, more connected, and more enjoyable – hypothetically. But sometimes, our devices can add to our stress. It may sound impossible to reduce screen time in a world that's so dependent on personal technology, especially in a professional sense. In fact, for many, the mere idea itself can sound intimidating – or logistically impossible. If this describes you, you're a perfect candidate for a digital detox.

A digital detox is a conscious effort to minimize the side effects that come with being constantly plugged-in. Reflect for a moment: does your phone or computer usage interfere with your sleep? Does it interrupt or distract you from in-person interactions? Are you compulsively hitting 'refresh' on social media, email, or the news? Would going out in public, socializing, or simply relaxing sans-phone make you uneasy? Don't worry, if you answered 'yes' to any of these questions, you're not alone. According to research, while 58% of smartphone users have reported attempting to reduce time spent on their devices, a mere 41% succeeded in actually doing so (source 1). This makes sense, considering that the average American spends over seven hours in front of various screens on a daily basis (source 2). And, while we can't ignore the necessity of technology to work and communicate, we can also take care to be mindful of how and why we consume it as much as we do.

The good news is that nobody has to go completely off the grid to have a beneficial digital detox. Once you understand the mechanisms behind what makes certain apps so irresistible, and identify a clear motivation for cutting back, it's simple to tailor a plan to make your devices work for you – not vice-versa. The goal is balance, not restriction. Digital detox isn't about abstaining from technologies that truly make your life easier, but zeroing in on the aspects that feel obligatory, mentally taxing, or mechanical, and reclaiming control over your time and energy.

Dopamine, a chemical neurotransmitter within the brain, is largely responsible for the compulsion to use technology more than necessary. Dopamine drives our actions by anticipating how satisfied we will feel after meeting a need or fulfilling a desire – it's also commonly known as our 'reward pathways' (source 3). Whenever we get a notification, a message, a high score, or even refresh a timeline – in other words, a positive stimulus – it triggers a release of dopamine, and an ensuing feeling of gratification (source 4). Seeking and repeating this effect is how habits form, including those surrounding our personal devices. A successful digital detox comes down to breaking and resetting these ingrained behaviors, and making our relationship with tech more mindful and deliberate.

So what exactly can you gain by going on a digital detox? You'll free up the time and headspace to take on and complete longer, more constructive tasks. Unstructured time spent browsing the Internet precludes the opportunity to apply yourself to responsibilities and hobbies, and makes us accustomed to low-effort, high-dopamine activities. Choose active recreation and long-term projects, not passive consumption and instant gratification. After a digital detox, you'll likely find that your concentration, attention span, and stress levels have improved (source 5), further contributing to productivity when you do need to be online.

Now that you're thoroughly convinced to try a digital detox, need some tips and techniques to help you get started? Keep reading below if you want to dethrone the smartphone!

  • Use the settings on your phone to set time limits on social media apps. There are also downloadable programs and extensions to block websites on a computer for designated periods of time.
  • Turn off notification alerts & badges, or put your phone on airplane mode.
  • Declare certain rooms or locations, i.e. the dinner table, to be "no-phone zones".
  • If feasible, replace your smartphone with a "dumb phone" designed to be minimalist, such as The Light Phone.
  • App launchers that are designed to streamline your home screen and break toxic usage patterns are also available on Android, such as Niagara Launcher and Minimalist Phone.
  • Take a break before switching between apps.
  • Buy a physical lock box with a timer to store your phone inside.
  • Go offline at the same time each day so it becomes a habit.
  • Unfollow those with inflammatory, controversial posts, or unfollow celebrities and models you don't know personally.
  • Uninstall unused apps cluttering up your phone to optimize your user experience.
  • Leave groups and mailing lists that no longer interest you.
  • Read literature on the subject, such as Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, or How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price.
  • Delete social media apps from your phone, only using their equivalents on your laptop, tablet, or desktop.
  • Challenge yourself to go to a party, run errands, or eat at a restaurant without bringing your phone.
  • Learn to meditate to get comfortable with your uninterrupted stream of consciousness.
  • Use a physical alarm clock, rather than the clock function on your phone, to set your morning alarm. The same concept applies to a camera.
  • Scroll backwards, not forwards. When you open an app, scroll down to however much content you decide to take in, then work your way upwards through the feed. When you reach the top, log off.
  • Contact friends and family one-on-one via voice call or meet in person instead of liking or commenting on a post.
  • Engage your body and senses with physical activity (mini golf, club soccer, yoga, frisbee golf, the gym), outdoor time (running, hiking, gardening, paddleboarding, fishing, birdwatching), and creative pursuits with your hands (painting, origami, woodworking, floral arrangement, guitar, cooking, nail art).

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