How To Assert Your Independence During A Digital Detox

The July Fourth weekend signals summer is in full swing. Will you unplug during the break, or will you stay tethered to your smartphone?

Not everyone can take a tropical vacation where cell-phone reception is spotty and you are truly disconnected from the outside world, but you can choose to spend time off the grid, wherever you are.

Whether you want to unplug for a few hours or an entire weekend, here are three persuasive reasons to leave your phone at home and take a digital detox.

1. You Get Burned Out

"When you stay plugged in 24/7, you train everyone in your life that you’re always on," says Ginger Jenks, CEO of Magellan Enterprises, a Colorado-based executive coaching firm. "That means you never get a break, which drains your battery," she says.

2. Busy Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Productive

You may respond to every email as it comes across the screen, but how important is it?

"When you are constantly responding to the dings and whistles of your technology, you begin to confuse activity with accomplishment," says Courtney Kirschbaum, founder of CK Consulting Services, a leadership consulting firm in Colorado.

You may feel like you’re making progress by being so responsive, but you’re not focused on the important things—the 20% of your goals that will get you 80% of your results, she explains. "People who live in this response zone often don’t know how to prioritize the important things in their life, so they respond to it all," Kirschbaum says.

3. You Train People How to Treat You

"Anything that’s readily available is usually not considered precious," Kirschbaum says. So while you may think immediately responding to every email as it arrives in your inbox makes you look like you’re on top of things, your responsiveness suggests you can’t distinguish between tasks that are important and those that are less so, she says.

You may decide to take a digital detox, but do you actually step away from your smartphone or computer? Here's how to ensure you follow through with the unplugging pledge:

1. Manage Expectations

Let people know that you’ll be unavailable for a period of time and when you’ll be responding to emails, phone calls, or texts, says Jennifer Martin, a San Francisco-based small business coach at Zest Business Consulting. Martin suggests setting an autoresponder clarifying when you’ll be out and when they can expect to receive a response. If appropriate, provide an alternate contact’s information to handle emergencies while you’re away.

Once you put a time out there, be sure to stick to it, Magellan Enterprises's CEO Jenks says. "If you say you won’t be responding until two weeks from today, they understand not to expect something before then. You then have the opportunity to underpromise and overdeliver."

2. Find a Detox Buddy

Sara Ruthnum, senior editor for Bucketlist.org, a site that allows users to set and track their goals, says more than 9,600 of its nearly 160,000 users have listed "unplug for 48 hours" as a goal they want to achieve.

Chances are you already know someone who wants to escape technology’s stranglehold. Martin suggests finding someone at work or a friend who’s willing to take a 30-day challenge with you to try new habits like only checking email for half an hour at certain times during the day. Being accountable to someone else can help keep you on track.

3. Remove Distractions

Limit the number of distractions around you. If you have to work on the computer, Martin suggests using free apps like Self Control for Mac or Stay Focusd for Google Chrome, that allow you to block access to distracting websites.

Turn off push notifications and email announcements on your phone or computer or, better yet, leave your phone at home. If you absolutely must be available for certain people’s calls, Kirschbaum suggests selecting a special ring tone for them. That way, you’ll know when they’re calling and can decide whether to take the call.

[Image: Flickr user Piervincenzo Madeo]

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