I once asked a very productive friend how he managed to get so much done in a single day. Did he have some magic power than enabled him to speed through the never-ending ‘to-do’ list? Did he somehow have more hours in a day than anyone else? I couldn’t understand how he was able to achieve so much compared to the rest of us.
“I’ll tell you my secret” he said, taking an old Nokia phone out of his pocket. “This is the only phone I have. I can only take calls or answer texts on it. My team knows to call me if it’s urgent and I only answer emails and do my social media from my desktop computer.”
His explanation really struck me. So often we think that because we have emails coming straight to our phones and the ability to instantly update our social media accounts, that we’re being really productive. However, in reality it can end up being a massive time-waster too.
For example, one of the things I’ve noticed since having my little adventurer is that I’ll often spend the time when she’s napping scanning through my Facebook timeline, looking at the holiday snaps of someone I went to school with who I haven’t seen in 20 years. Or I’ll promise myself an early night and find that an hour later I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole of celebrity spats on Twitter.
Now I’m not suggesting we all immediately ditch our smart phones. I know for a fact I rely on mine for so much that I’d be lost without it (quite literally, if it weren’t for Google Maps). But it is interesting to think about times when we can switch off and the benefits of doing so.
A couple of months ago I planned a surprise break away for Mr A’s birthday. I’d booked us onto the ‘Slow Adventure’ package and on the way to the Wriggly Tin Shepherd’s Huts site I rashly suggested to Mr A that we switch our phones off for the two days we were away. He readily agreed, after all he is usually the poor Instagram husband who is left twiddling his thumbs while I update all of my social accounts.
After making the suggestion to have a digital detox, I did wonder whether it would be tough to go without our phones for that long. However, we barely missed them and actually enjoyed the experience.
So here’s six things we discovered on our digital detox:
You get more stuff done
I always tell myself that I don’t really spend that much time on social media. Since having my little adventurer I no longer spend hours scrolling through my timelines like I used to. It’s more like the odd moment here and there when I have a spare minute. But the main time I do my updates and catch up on what other people have been up to is when my little one is feeding.
However, one of the things I discovered during our break is that you don’t realise how much all of those little moments add up.
Instead of switching on my phone while we were away I started reading the book we’d chosen for that month’s #travelbookclub. I read it in snippets when feeding my little adventurer and also while sitting by the campfire as she had her morning nap in the shepherd’s hut. I couldn’t believe how quickly I got through the book – reading the whole thing in just two days.
It made me remember how I always used to have a book on the go, which would be brought out while on public transport or when I was waiting for appointments. But now I often waste that time tapping away on my phone.
This experience definitely made me realise that I could be doing more productive things during those downtime moments and made me commit to start carrying a book around with me again.
You use your brain more
One of the things that Mr A and I are quite bad at is looking things up on our phone. “Who was that actor in that film again?” “How does that work?” “What’s the weather going to be like today?”
So many of the daily questions we have can be answered by technology that we sometimes forget to stop and take a minute to see whether we can remember the answer or work out the solution ourselves.
Not having our phones to hand meant that we had to think about things more. We took time to wonder about things, to put forward hypotheses and to not worry about not having an immediate answer to our questions. We even had to get used to map-reading again as we’d become so used to using GPS on our phones.
And you know what, that was fine. Did the world end because we didn’t instant know the answer to a question? No. Although did we spend two days driving ourselves crazy trying to remember the name of that actor? Of course.
You worry less
I don’t know about you, but one of the things that has interested me for a long time is the effect of social media on mental health. Obviously there’s all of the much-documented issues it raises, like comparing yourselves to others, only showing a filtered version of people’s real lives etc. But I also think about the impact of having 24-hour news available to you at all times. We are constantly being bombarded by what’s going on in the world.
I also follow quite a lot of journalists and activists on social media and sometimes reading their stories and following their campaigns can be quite overwhelming. There’s so much bad stuff going on in the world, so many tragedies and so much injustice, and its impossible to know where to start to put things right.
Taking a digital detox and having the time to switch off from that felt very liberating. Yes, of course, bad things are still going to happen, but allowing yourself a break from them and to acknowledge that it’s okay to stop reading the news for a couple of days can do wonders for your mental health.
Time slows down
We were only away for two days but it felt like much longer. With our phones switched off there was no sending WhatsApp messages to make plans for the following week, no chance to check emails and start thinking about future projects, it was just the three of us hanging out together.
By the time we left both Mr A and I agreed that it felt as though we had been away for at least a week, rather than just a couple of nights.
You connect more with those around you
The irony of spending your time connecting with followers (many of whom are actually strangers) is that you sometimes forget to connect with your nearest and dearest.
In the evenings after putting our exhausted little adventurer to bed Mr A and I sat around the campfire having dinner and chatting. It was approaching six months since the birth of our little one so the conversation inevitably turned to her arrival and Mr A finally had the chance to tell me what it had been like for him. I feel like as a new mum so many people ask you about the birth that you pretty much have your story on a record but it occurred to me as we spoke that we had never really discussed what it’s like to be the dad in those moments.
In the chaos of daily life as new parents it felt really special to have the time to talk about it as we sat around the fire, with none of the usual distractions around us.
You live in the moment
As a travel blogger one of the constant balances you have to strike is enjoying the moment as well as finding ways to share it. As someone who loves travelling I find great joy in sharing my adventures and making recommendations to people about their trips.
But sometimes the desire to document a moment can overshadow the experience. This is especially the case with social media, where it’s easy to instantly upload updates and photos about where you are. During our digital detox there was something lovely about not having the pressure to share where we were and what we were doing. Although I did take some photos, it was more for our memories, rather than to show other people.
As a result of my digital detox I found that I was more in the moment. I wasn’t worrying about sharing my photos and replying to people’s comments about them. I was able to concentrate more on Mr A and my little adventurer, without thinking about captions and photo filters.
I took time to take in the beautiful surrounding landscape, without having to document it, I listened to the birds and laid on the grass. I spent time doing nothing, which I think is so rare these days when we put so much pressure on ourselves to fill every available minute with something meaningful. It felt wonderfully freeing.
Have you ever taken a digital detox? I’d love to hear your thoughts about it.
If you enjoyed this post you can read more about our stay at the Wriggly Tin Shepherd’s Huts here and if you want some tips about planning a trip with a baby, check out this post.
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