January/February 2020

Simple Steps

Is It Time for a Digital Detox?

Allison C. Shields

Have you ever experienced a problem with technology, such as a computer failure or home Wi-Fi on the fritz? What is the first thing the experts always say? “Did you try turning it off and turning it back on again? Unplug it for 30 seconds and plug it back in again.”

If you’re feeling a bit fried yourself, perhaps you need to unplug yourself for a while. As TECHSHOW 2020 approaches, a digital detox might be just what the doctor ordered. For all of the advances we’ve seen in technology in the past 10 years, technology has its downside as well.

Studies have shown that the constant use of technology, especially mobile devices, can cause all kinds of physical problems, including eyestrain, headaches, neck and back problems, lack of sleep and a shortened attention span affecting productivity and work. Reliance on technology may be stifling creativity as well because our devices never let us get bored or have true solitude or time for reflection. Playing Candy Crush or scrolling through Twitter and Instagram feeds prevents creativity from taking root.

Technology also contributes to weakened personal relationships. Constantly communicating via a device, rather than face to face, leads to a lack of engagement and increases the chances that we will be misunderstood. Social media may be contributing to feelings of envy and “FOMO” (fear of missing out).

But with technology becoming such an integral part of our everyday life (we even have “smart” appliances now!), how can we disengage from it?

Take Notice

The first step in your digital detox may simply be to become more aware of how and when you’re using technology, how effective (or not) your use of that technology is, and how it affects those around you.

Start tracking your technology use. Keep a technology log for a week. Write down the kind of technology you use, what you are using it for and how long you use it. Include who else was with you when you were using it and how you think your use of technology affected your interaction. You might be surprised at the results.

If you’re really brave, give your family, colleagues, assistant, friends and even clients permission to call you out on your bad technology habits. Ask them to remind you when they see you using your technology too much or in ways that might be inappropriate, such as sending texts or email messages during dinner, playing games on your phone when out with friends, or getting distracted on the phone with a client or during face-to-face meetings.

Go "Old School"

Rather than trying to simply quit, it might be easier to try to replace an old technology habit with a new one—or in this case, an old one. Instead of relying on technology for everything, replace a tech habit with an “old-school” one.

For example, rather than spending time scrolling through your Facebook feed, use that time to pick up the phone to call a friend or schedule time to meet with a referral source face to face in their office or for coffee.

Instead of checking your email first thing in the morning, start your day with a few minutes of meditation, or, as suggested by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, spend 30 minutes writing “morning pages” to get some thoughts on paper and stimulate the creative part of your brain.

Eager to read the next best-seller? Take a trip to your local bookstore or library and pick up a hard copy of the book instead of reading it on your Kindle. Take notes, compose your to-do list or a first draft by hand instead of on a keyboard.

Use an old-school alarm clock instead of using your phone’s alarm feature so you don’t start your day by looking at your phone. Switch to an analog watch to check the time instead of relying on your phone—which can distract you with all of the shiny apps and notifications you see there.

Set Limits

Even if you can’t unplug completely, you can still do a modified detox by eliminating some of your technology to focus on what serves you best or by limiting the times and places you use technology.

For example, you could create tech-free zones at home and at work: ban technology from your bedroom, the dinner table or in firm meetings at your office. Schedule “do not disturb time” when you do not use your phone or other technology at home, with family, evenings or weekends, and at the office when meeting with clients or colleagues or doing focused work. Only check your email periodically. Set up an auto-response to advise you will respond within a specified period of time.

Evaluate the technology you use to eliminate anything that is redundant and focus only on the technology that is the most effective for you. For example, instead of using several different communication apps such as email, text, Skype and WhatsApp, choose one preferred app and encourage your contacts to use that one. Put automated messages on the other apps notifying people of your preferred method of communication, and only respond through your preferred app.

Clean up your phone’s home screen and your computer desktop to eliminate files or shortcuts you do not use regularly. Uninstall apps and programs that don’t serve you. Limit the number of social media platforms you use, and deactivate your other accounts or eliminate your profiles on those sites. Get rid of email subscriptions to newsletters or sites you don’t read. Delete outdated or unnecessary contacts.

Eliminate notifications on your phone other than calls and texts. Clear out your browser bookmarks—eliminate them entirely or keep only those you actually use and need. Use only one screen at a time; if you are watching television, turn off your phone.

To avoid having technology creep into every moment of every day and distracting you, set aside specific times to tackle tasks requiring technology, or set a timer to limit use of social media. Use a service that blocks your access to certain websites or apps during the workday or between specified hours. Put your phone on airplane mode during that time so you won’t get notifications and can’t connect to the internet. Better yet, put your phone away in another room, in your purse or in a drawer so you won’t be tempted to reach for it.

Make a better transition between work and home. Close out all open programs at the end of the day and turn off your computer so you’ll have a fresh start in the morning. Make a similar transition before bed. Close out all open programs on your phone and tablet. Wind down use of technology well before bedtime to ensure you get a better night’s sleep. Consider charging your phone and storing it overnight somewhere other than your bedroom so you won’t be tempted to use your phone just before bed, when you get up in the middle of the night or when you first wake up.

Taking these few simple steps can help you become less dependent on your technology and may even allow you to enjoy your tech time more by limiting your use of apps and devices to only those that are the most helpful, effective and enjoyable.

Allison C. Shields

Allison C. Shields is the president of Legal Ease Consulting, Inc. where she works with lawyers and law firms to develop strategies to improve marketing and client service, and increase productivity, efficiency and profitability. She is the co-author of several books, including LinkedIn in One Hour for Lawyers (ABA 2013) and How to Do More in Less Time: The Complete Guide to Increasing Your Productivity and Improving Your Bottom Line (ABA 2014). allison@legaleaseconsulting.com