Now that I’m six weeks into my attempt to live more mindfully, it’s getting easy to see where my sticking points are. That my smartphone would be one of them was no surprise, so when “digital detox” specialists Time to Log Off got in touch to see if I fancied trying to disconnect for Valentine’s Day I was a) sceptical; but b) sure it would do me the world of good.
In keeping with my own approach, their week-long challenge was made up of a series of achievable smaller goals that got progressively more difficult as the week went on. In fact, the Time to Log Off plan started off so simply that at first I almost felt like I was cheating – but, of course, that was how I managed to just about stick to it.
As a full-time office-based journalist who is also a freelance writer and a blogger, I have to make a conscious effort to take downtime: scheduling and weekend work is the only way I can fit in the bits of my self-made career that I enjoy the most, and bus journeys and post office queues are often spent checking social media or filing email. It’s an approach that I’m becoming better at catching and nipping in the bud in order to force myself to relax, and this particular challenge was perfect at helping me to really think about my smartphone use and put my inbuilt need to be constantly connected into perspective.
DAY ONE: TURN OFF YOUR PHONE ALARM AND WAKE UP TO YOUR ALARM CLOCK
To assist me in my quest, Time to Log Off sent me out a box of digital detox-themed goodies including an alarm clock, the bestselling Secret Garden adult colouring book and some notebooks and pencils. A digital detox would hardly be worth the name without waking up properly analogue, so we’re talking old-school clock face and big, clattering bells. When I tested it out to make sure it was working the cats bolted from the room, but I still spent half the night glancing at my phone to make sure I hadn’t slept in.
DAY TWO: LEAVE YOUR PHONE AND ALL DIGITAL DEVICES OUTSIDE YOUR BEDROOM WHEN YOU GO TO BED TONIGHT
This was more like it. I don’t know if I necessarily slept better, but I was certainly spared the temptation to check my Neko Atsume kittens had enough to eat in the middle of the night and no phone in the bedroom meant I couldn’t spend half an hour browsing Instagram and my email. (I dozed back off instead…)
DAY THREE: EAT ALL YOUR MEALS IN A DIFFERENT ROOM FROM ALL DIGITAL DEVICES TODAY
Or, the first proper break in my daily smartphone habits. I work in an open plan office, so my version of this was to leave my iPhone on my desk and eat my lunch sitting in the canteen area with a (paperback) book. I read – in fact, am still reading, as I liked this task enough to carry it on past the week – two chapters every lunch time, and got back to my desk feeling as though I’d had a proper break. My Italian lessons are suffering though.
DAY FOUR: REMOVE EMAIL FROM YOUR PHONE
DAY FIVE: LEAVE YOUR PHONE AT HOME WHEN YOU GO OUT FOR THE EVENING, OR FOR A WALK
The notes accompanying today’s challenge suggested that I should be without my phone for a minimum of three hours. Now, I don’t know about you, but by the time I make it out of the other side of a working week it is rare that I am able to “go out” anywhere for three hours. Besides, it was raining.
So I decided to give myself a phone-free evening, with the added bonus of being able to start a project I was already long overdue on.
Late last year, I was asked to take part in the annual Knit for Winter challenge run by Sunrise Senior Living, which runs a care home in Bramhall among other places. I’m not sure why, given that knitting is something that – although I have picked up a few times – I’ve never been able to stick with. It’s not for a lack of trying, but when we moved out of the flat I decided I might as well call it quits and gave away my supply of luxurious yarn, three types of knitting needles and copy of Stitch and Bitch. But given that this year’s campaign is in support of premature baby charity First Touch, and I’m a few months off becoming an auntie, I couldn’t turn it down.
I was given the choice of knitting a ventilator bonnet or a blanket, and since only one of those sounded like I’d get to knit in a straight line that was what I opted for. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but knitting really is the proverbial riding a bike of skills – as long as you don’t count the two hours it took me to figure out how to cast on again.
Oh, also: this is the first time I have knitted as a cat owner, which it turns out presents its own set of challenges.
The pattern I have calls for 48 patches and I’m at, um, five. I’ve been really enjoying knitting while watching TV or whatever in the evenings – it’s way more calming than Candy Crush Saga – but I seem to have a limit of one patch per night and then ripping the second one out in a stupid error. At this rate, First Touch can expect a slightly battered package from myself at some point in mid-August – but hey, I’m sure they have babies in need all year round.
DAY 6: REMOVE SOCIAL MEDIA FROM YOUR PHONE, MEET UP WITH FRIENDS INSTEAD
Saturday 13th February was, of course, Galentines’ Day – only the best day of the year – and, to celebrate, my friend Liz had organised brunch for a bunch of us at The Bungo on the southside. Some French toast, great company and a couple of breakfast martinis and I didn’t even notice that I was Instagramless and Facebook-free.
After brunch I headed into town to shop for Lola and Jehane’s birthday presents, and for coffee and cake at John Lewis. I read my book, checked in on my Neko Atsume cats and didn’t actually think about social media – not the way I was missing my email, anyway. I checked in on my laptop once I got home: three unread messages, and all of them were spam.
DAY 7: DIGITAL DETOX DAY…
…or was it?
In my defence, Jay had received new edits on the latest book the night before, so I wouldn’t have been able to spend the day “focusing on my loved ones” as called for by the challenge anyway… but those cocktails over brunch the day before had killed any desire for work in me on Saturday, and I don’t get the luxury of taking a whole weekend off. What I did do though was ditch my phone, had a coffee date at Tesco with my mum and finished up in enough time to watch a film on the couch with Jay before bed.
So, what did I learn from my digital sorta-detox?
Well, that I can function perfectly well without access to social media, that knitting is more relaxing than screen-based alternatives and that it’s a good thing not to be switched on all the time. As I’ve said already, I’ve been sticking with phone-free mealtimes since the challenge ended – and I’m also going to keep my phone out of the bedroom at least until the end of the month as my new monthly challenge to myself.
Plus, I’ve now got myself a handy little blueprint to follow for when I start to feel the anxiety that comes with convincing myself that I always need to be connected. What do you think, will you be giving it a try?
If you fancy getting serious about disconnecting, Time to Log Off run regular digital detox retreats in Cornwall and in other locations throughout the world. Find out more on their website.