Diary of a digital detox: Havas exec survives 30 days without social media
Thirty days without social media? I didn’t think I could do it.
Not because I didn’t have the willpower. More so because I literally didn’t think I could. Working for an earned-media agency and overseeing a digital division, how could I possibly take a digital detox for a month? How would I stay on top of what’s trending, counsel clients or help drive my team forward if I went dark for a full month?
But that’s exactly what I did.
I had been reading more and more about our society’s addiction to social media and the swelling movement in which people were disconnecting to reconnect. As I debated my own desire to temporarily pull the plug, it made me question my own usage and if I was using social media with purpose or as a distraction.
I began with my iPhone’s Screen Time feature. Before opening the setting on my phone, I predicted how much time I was spending on social media in a given day. I guesstimated 15-20 minutes maximum, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was clocking in just over an hour of social time each day. That was my first real eye-opener. Where did I find the time?
And so, my digital detox began. Bye Instagram, Facebook and Twitter—see you in 30 days!
Week 1: I decided that for my own social experiment to be a success, I needed to set some boundaries. I divided my digital habits—including social media, Netflix, podcasts, streaming music and email—into two categories: "purposeful" versus "distraction." I rarely watch TV, email was required at work and the podcasts I listen to were actually enriching my life. It was decided; my digital detox would consist of removing all the social media apps from my phone. Day one felt great, liberating even. But that evening, when I sat down to relax after dinner, I found myself mindlessly reaching for my phone to see what was happening on “the 'gram.” I sat there, at the intersection of FOMO and wonderment, realizing just how automatic social scrolling had become for me. The next few days were tough as I worked on retraining my mind and thumbs to think differently about what I could do with my spare time.
Week 2: A week passed, and I was starting to feel a little less frazzled. A sense of relief started to creep in knowing that I didn’t need to keep up with what was going on outside of the moment. I missed seeing what my friends, family and co-workers were up to, but a shift in thinking more about how I was spending my time versus how others were spending theirs started to emerge. I signed up for a meditation course because I’d always wanted to learn to meditate. I also made myself go outside for runs without ear buds so I could fully connect with the sounds around me. I found myself clearing my head and doing some blue-sky thinking that I wasn’t finding the time to do during the day.
Week 3: With my new daily meditation practice in full swing, I really began to feel the positive effects of turning off social in week three. During this time, we had two important new business pitches at work, and I found myself more focused and ready to jump in to support my team in creative ideation. Spoiler alert: we won them both. Personally, I took my longtime interest in nutrition a step further, spending my evenings researching programs and enrolling in one to become a certified integrative nutrition health coach. I no longer missed scrolling and started to debate if I really wanted to put the apps back on my phone after the 30 days was up. I selected a few books I wanted to read over the summer and started reading before bed. It felt familiar and nostalgic and I loved turning real pages again.
Week 4: The home stretch. Strangely, it was in the final week of my digital detox that I found myself fiending most for social media. Summer had officially started and I wanted to see what was going on in the world. One night, I actually went into the app store to download Instagram thinking there was no harm in ending a few days early. But, before I could re-install it, I stopped and decided to use the time to determine how I wanted to use each platform when I did return: Facebook would be used only for the Groups feature and to track content that was of personal interest; Twitter would remain status quo as I really only used it as a news feed; Instagram, the biggest distraction of all, would be used in 15-minute increments which I’d set up in the Screen Time settings. Most importantly, all the apps would no longer live on my phone’s home screen; rather, in a folder on the second-page swipe. This would require me to think before I opened any social app.
It’s a few weeks later now, and I remain in a much more purposeful state of mind when it comes to social. I utilize it now with goals and objectives versus mindless distraction. Ironically, I’m even more dialed into pop culture as I spend more time reading and absorbing what sparks conversation, versus getting stuck in a feed of curated content. I spend more time thinking about how to solve problems versus trying to escape them. And, perhaps most important, my social sunset has reminded me to engage at a deeper level with people, reigniting the principles of interpersonal communication that I had allowed to fade as I became more reliant on technology to communicate.
For those thinking of doing a digital detox of their own, here are a few key takeaways:
Set your boundaries. Determine what a digital detox means to you and start there. Adopt the 80/20 rule knowing you can’t do everything perfectly all of the time and make it as manageable as possible to improve your chances of reaping benefits from a digital reset.
Commit to go dark. Go big or go home as they say. Remove social and streaming apps from your phone to limit temptation.
Use the time wisely. Everyone struggles to find down time, and you’ll be amazed at how much more you’ll have when you take a digital detox. Use the time away from your phone to be more productive and tackle something you’ve been wanting to do for a while. Or, just get up and outside. Brainstorming while running (and then quickly jotting down thought starters I could share with my colleagues at work the next day) helped me to get more mindful and creative when it came to work.
Find your purpose. Ask yourself how your digital habits serve you and if they support your higher goals in life. Determine if social media is more of a time suck or a helpful tool for you. In the end, I learned that disconnecting to reconnect can in fact make a creative like me even more creative.