How To Break Up With Your Phone And *Actually* Do A Digital Detox
Dependency on our digital devices can be tough to kick. A former digital brand strategist turned be-here-now activist weighs in on why logging off is essential to our productivity and mental health.
Today, Jess Davis is seated relaxedly in Brooklyn lunch spot with her phone down, her computer off the table, and her mind focused. But the activist, writer, and founder of Folk Rebellion was a very different woman, with a very different vibe, not that long ago.
Davis spent over a decade as a digital brand strategist. She was a noisemaker and a storyteller, and had a skillset that, while somewhat ubiquitous now, was rare in the early aughts. At one point, she was managing the publicity, e-commerce, and social media for 12 brands, all by herself.
Her career was booming, and her calendar was chaotic to match. But one day, the "always on" work schedule she had gotten used to came to a screeching halt.
“We landed in Hawaii and my husband turned to me and said, ‘We’re on vacation. People wait their whole lives to come here. Give me all of your devices.’”
At first, Davis thought that it was a cruel joke. When he said he was serious, she broke down crying. He gave her just enough time to call an assistant and then confiscated her devices for the rest of the trip. At first, she went through withdrawal, but after the initial shock came a realization of how unhealthy her connection with her tech had become.
“I had been feeling sick for the better part of a year," she says. "Doctors said the brain fog, lack of focus, memory loss, and general unwellness was due to gluten or baby brain, but my baby was almost two years old.”
So when a week without tech left her brain feeling sharper than it had in a decade, it was a major ah-ha moment. The 24/7 way she had been using her tech had seriously impacted her mental and physical health.
Following the forced digital detox, Davis committed to being more conscious of her use of technology, but of course, the people she'd been working for weren’t as into the idea of her backing away from her devices. After she was reprimanded by a client for taking notes by hand in a meeting instead of on her computer, she quit. And it was then that she decided to build Folk Rebellion, a movement and lifestyle brand that promotes the more mindful use of technology.
Our obsessive use of smartphones has “blurred the lines of at-work and off-work,” Davis says, but our “instant gratification culture [is actually] a detriment to business.” Davis likens it to a faucet: If too little water comes out, it’s ineffective. But if too much comes out, it’s both ineffective and messy.
Just like a faucet, our use of technology needs to be calibrated to be efficient and effective enough to keep from getting messy. Through her personal experiences and her work with individuals and organizations, Davis has three actions items for people looking to calibrate their tech use to that perfect setting.
Do a detox
Davis recommends a digital detox as a way of raising your awareness of how your devices are impacting your life. It’s sort of like a juice cleanse; it’s miserable when you’re doing it, but the process can reveal things that are very valuable.
Even just 24 hours without tech can trigger a breakthrough, but Davis encourages people to take a full weekend, or even longer. Folk Rebellion's retreat, in addition to the many other adult summer camps and retreats that have popped up over the last few years, can be a valuable way to disconnect in a structured environment.
Batch your emails
From sun-up until far past sundown, our email inboxes beg for us to take a look. But constantly checking email isn’t just time-consuming, it’s inefficient. “I know that by opening my inbox as soon I wake up, I am reacting to whatever is coming in, rather than being proactive and really thinking about ‘What are the most important things I need to address today?’”
Davis solves this by checking her email just four times a day. Now, when she’s doing a project for a client, she’s truly able to focus on it. It doesn’t matter if you decide to check email eight times a day, or even twelve-plus if you work in a fast-paced field. The key is to pick a schedule, to stick to it, and to communicate it effectively. For Davis, that means including the times when she checks in her email signature so that there is no question as to why, if you sent a message at 8 pm, you can’t expect an answer before noon the next day.
It is up to each of us individually, Davis says, to set boundaries and to create rituals that protect ourselves from our tech obsession. She suggests setting aside an hour or two at a time to work on projects without interruptions. Other boundaries include turning off the push notifications for apps you don’t need to keep an eye on, and putting your phone out of arms reach when you’re off of the clock.
“Manage other people’s expectations about how often you are available, and then explain to them that the reason that these boundaries are there is that it’s going to make the work you’re doing better,” she says.
Just because tech is ruling our lives, Davis insists, doesn’t mean that “it is what it is.” It’s up to us to transform our devices from machines that control us, back into valuable tools that we have control over. The first step is admitting you have a problem, and the next is doing something about it.
Words: Pippa Biddle