These days, life seems to run at a fast past for many of us. Family, work and life in general seem to often demand more of us that we feel we have to give, or at least in the hours we have in each given day. As we roll into the start of the holiday season, the stress can often build even more, as our to-do lists grow longer, and what should be a time we look forward to time spent with loved ones and time to enjoy ourselves can instead become overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be – if we set ourselves up for success. While it isn’t a cure-all, I have an idea to share that might just bring more peace, calm and connectedness into your holiday season, and hopefully beyond…and I want to tell you about it.
This fall, my husband John and I decided to try a digital detox experiment. Married for many years, we also began working together in our small business three years ago. Working with John has been both rewarding and challenging. One of the biggest challenges is managing all of the work that needs to be done while still maintaining a healthy work / life balance. Over the past year we both felt that we were spending more time online than optimal. We were working most weekday evenings and often on the weekends too. We had gotten into the habit of eating dinner in front of the TV, while watching the news and then continuing to work through the evening so we could stay caught up with everything. It was too much. The increased workload was impacting our personal lives. I found myself feeling lonely at night sitting next to John, but our attention was elsewhere, often in phone or our laptop screens. That was disturbing to me and not something I wanted to become the norm in our relationship.
I suggested that we begin a Digital Detox Experiment when we got home from VMworld, our biggest conference of the year. One aspect of our business is helping our clients prepare for several months leading up to VMworld so they can have stronger, more successful impact at the conference. While at VMworld, we got invited to speak at the Boston VMUG User Conference as the evening keynote. The topic could be anything we wanted it to be as long as it wasn’t technical in nature and was something that we were passionate about. We decided to do the talk on our Digital Detox experiment. This post is an attempt to share a bit of what we learned over the 6 weeks.
We began with two rules:
1. No devices/computer time after 8PM
2. No TV during dinner
I suggested that we use this time as an opportunity to learn and figure out practices that would be sustainable for us long term. We wanted the plan to be fluid and have plenty of room to make changes as needed. In other words, we set ourselves up for success by explicitly allowing ourselves to make mistakes and consciously avoided perfectionistic thinking, we wanted to focus on progress, not perfection. There is nothing like the added pressure of trying to do something new perfectly.
Week 1 was the most dramatic week for me by far. It was a bit of a shock to my system to turn everything off by 8PM. The “No TV during dinner” was a really good rule for me. I knew intuitively that watching the news while eating dinner was not nourishing me. Integrating these two changes was more challenging that I expected! The first couple of nights were the hardest, trying to shift this habit. The first week was far from perfect, but I found myself with more time on my hands and that seemed to be a very good thing for me. A few times in the first week, I found myself pressing buttons on my phone without my conscious awareness. All of a sudden, I was on Facebook or Twitter without realizing it. By the end of the first week, there was a marked improvement in my sleep.
Week 2 was easier than week one, and there was also some negotiation that took place. One of the things that I missed the first week was having access to the Calm app after 8PM at night. The calm app has great guided meditations, and what I really missed at night was the ability to listen to one of their sleep stories to help me fall asleep. I also was missing my music, which I usually access from my phone. I added back access to my music and the calm app. Week two was about figuring out what I needed to add back in to that would be supportive and sustainable
The lines got blurry on week 3. We both had presentations with different clients, and worked past 8 on both Monday and Tuesday to prepare slides for our. presentations. With a rough start to the week, we knew we were on a slippery slope. I found it more difficult to align with the 8PM rule, but we did our best. We weren’t perfect, but still felt more balanced than before the experiment started. At this point I focused on what was working as opposed to what wasn’t working. Focusing on the progress being made was much more helpful to keep moving forward, than pointing out each and every way we were not meeting our digital detox goals. This strategy is something I learned as I have dropped over 100 pounds in the last couple of years. It is much easier to keep moving forward if I focus on the what is going right, as opposed to what is going wrong. Adding some gentleness where you might have harshly criticized yourself is what makes gently moving forward so powerful.
We went to Hawaii for our first vacation in a year and a half. We have been traveling for work regularly this year and it was great to take a week off from work. Since we run a business and have ongoing projects, we weren’t able to completely unplug, but it was a restful week and I got to do one of my favorite things on my birthday: early morning swims in the South Kona where the dolphins play in the morning before they rest. I was lucky to have several swims and got to see some Hawaiian spinner dolphins over the course of the week. It was restorative, joyful and fun, until I caught a cold. Luckily, I was able to nip it in the bud within a couple of days. I loaded myself up with vitamins, herbs and essential oils and tons of rest. I rested so much that John got bored. I woke up in the middle of the night one night to him browsing on his phone. We exchanged some words over that and laughed about it later. I wasn’t feeling well and responded strongly to him breaking “the rules”. This is something we embarked on together, yet any kind of plan to effect change in your life needs to be a personal commitment. From the beginning, we focused on progress, not perfection. It was better for me to focus on my alignment with my digital detox plan, rather than what he was or wasn’t doing. That seems to be a good strategy for me in general…
Back in the saddle
Week five was a super busy week catching up after being away from home for 10 days. It was mostly an aligned week with the basic rules. It was in week 5 that I started thinking about my screen time on the weekends and perhaps extending the detox somehow over the weekend.
Week 6 was another slippery slope of a week. We had speaking engagements which required travel for the following two weeks and we had to create the content and slides for both of the presentations as well all of our other work responsibilities. There were several nights in that week that we worked beyond our 8PM deadline. As we prepped for our talk about our digital detox experiment, I realized that this is just the beginning of a deepening awareness around this topic. We are by no means experts in this, we are just beginning to make some changes that are supporting ourselves both individually and collectively as well as our business. Having a “beginners mind” is something that seems to be helpful as we move forward.
We returned back from our talk in Boston on 10/18 and traveled to Denver the following week. Last week was our first week home for an entire week and it was great to be home. We were supposed to travel to Barcelona at the end of last week for the VMworld Europe conference, but we decided to cancel the trip so we could focus on our current client work projects, get caught up on some delayed house projects,, and take a break from travel. It hasn’t been easy this week seeing all of the posts from our friends who are enjoying Barcelona, yet it has been exceptionally good to ground ourselves in the routines that support us. Sometimes, you have to make choices that aren’t easy, but choosing to stay home was the right choice for this season.
We learned quite a bit about ourselves with this experiment, especially how much time we were wasting with random scrolling on our devices. Even though we weren’t 100 percent compliant with our rules, we benefited greatly from this experiment. We both experienced Improved sleep, increased resiliency and creativity. One of the best benefits is that we are more present with each other and spending more quality time together. I personally feel more grounded, supported and productive. And less anxious. I want to continue to pare back on my screen time. Overall, it has been a very positive influence in our lives.
This past weekend, I recommitted to the 8PM screens off rule and decided to extend my digital detox to Sundays for the remainder of the year. It is now part of my overall self-care plan.
So, if you are needing all the help you can get in terms of self-care and stress management leading into the holidays, a Digital Detox might be a great tool to set yourself up for success. Consider your own habits, and what detox guidelines might help you through this holiday season being more present, less frazzled, and most importantly with the time and head space to make the most of the season with those that you love! I would love to hear your stories if you decide to give it a try – and if you feel like a little more structure and support might be helpful, please book a complimentary 30-min call with me, so we can discuss how together we can help you Gently Move forward into the holidays and beyond!