#Unplug: The 4 Biggest Temptations To Replug During Your Digital Detox

Unplugging from the online world can be incredibly rewarding. It can also be incredibly challenging. Here’s how to quiet the urge to browse and quiet the siren song of social media.

#Unplug: The 4 Biggest Temptations To Replug During Your Digital Detox

This week, we’re helping you prepare for a digital detox. But before you #unplug, it’s best to prepare yourself for the questions typically answered by your device, the web, or an app: How will I get in touch with people if I don’t have my phone? What’s the best way to find a good restaurant without searching Yelp? Where the hell am I?


It’s at these moments that you will be tempted to use. The good news is that there’s a way to prepare for the urge to re-plug by identifying then remembering what, exactly, you want to #unplug from.

For his 25-day detox, comedian and author Baratunde Thurston didn’t want–or need–to abandon the Internet completely. Not every aspect of digital life was problematic. It’s the web, not, like, crack.

“I love, depend on, and frankly am made a better human being by the convenience of streaming movies, online food ordering, and Google Maps. I did not want to sever ties with friends; in fact, one of my goals was to strengthen relationships with pre-Facebook pals. I wanted to go to lunch, attend holiday parties, and host people for dinner. So I decided I could use my phone for personal calls and texts, and could schedule these encounters with Google Calendar.”

But social media (“including, but not limited to, seeing, reading, downloading, syncing, sending, submitting, posting, pinning, sharing, uploading, updating, commenting, tagging, rating, liking, loving, upvoting, starring, favoriting, bookmarking, plus-oneing, or re-anythinging”) and business activities were prohibited.

To decide what you want to take a break from, first take inventory. “Start by keeping a time log,” suggests Kimberly Young, founder and director at the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery.

“What are the activities you do, and when do you do them? Then once you get that inventory, that in and of itself will probably be enlightening. You can start prioritizing what you can cut out. What is it you really don’t need?”

Then, create a list of things you’d like to accomplish while away, as any mission is best executed when there are goals in mind. “I concocted a wish list of activity for my disconnected time,” says Thurston. “It was a pleasure to contemplate places to visit in New York, books to read, and people with whom I wanted to spend some quality time.”
Once you’ve decided what to give up, and what to do during your #unplug, it’s time to dive in. Here are some of the temptations you should be prepared to deal with, and how to go around them:


I’m Bored

Start journaling: “Use a pencil and a pad and write what you’re feeling. Take a moment to be introspective… why is this a problem? What’s really happening? Do you feel a loss of connection?” -Kimberly Young

Get a hobby (or a pet): “Commit to something outside the office, away from digital responsibilities. I haven’t had a hobby outside of my job for nearly 10 years. So I took a few drastic measures. First, I got a dog. Which I’ve always wanted, but I knew it would force me to get outside, walk and unplug. Second, I joined my co-worker Amy Azzarito in signing up for adventurous classes like Aerial Silks and skateboarding. It’s hard to work your iPhone when you’re dangling from the air.” –Grace Bonney, founder of Design*Sponge

“I have to get up, turn off the laptop and start playing with my cat. Just wander around and engage in some mindless cat-play.” –Alexis Ohanian, Reddit

“I usually hike, read a book, talk with friends.  One day recharges me and feels like a two-week vacation.” -Jonathan D. Becher, chief marketing officer at SAP


“Reading non-fiction books. Even if I’m not capitvated by the story, I’m still learning something.” –Alexis Ohanian, Reddit

“Develop a habit of doodling instead of tapping or typing. –Dom Sagolla, co-creator of Twitter and chief community officer at Chaotic Moon

Make it impossible to plug in: “I pack up my computer, phone and iPad and charge them in my bedroom so I’m not tempted to use them.” –Grace Bonney, founder of Design*Sponge

“Intentionally seek places without wi-fi reception or even electricity, so you are not tempted to plug in.” –Yuli Ziv, founder and CEO of Style Coalition

The Online World Won’t Leave Me Alone

Turn off automatic sync on your phone: You can live without notifications from ESPN, Boing Boing, and Mafia Wars for a few days–a couple of weeks even!


Have a designated email checker: “To ensure an inbox-free vacation, my chief of staff would log in every few days to check that I didn’t miss anything urgent such as a family emergency, holiday party invite.” –Baratunde Thurston

Delay your emails: “I use Boomerang to delay the sending of emails so I can ensure I won’t get a response at a time that will force me to jump back into work.” –Grace Bonney, founder of Design*Sponge

“I’ve made it a policy not to reply to work emails outside of business hours. People are generally pretty annoyed at first, but they get over it. If it’s an emergency they learn to call, and apparently nothing is an emergency once you have to bother yourself with a phone call.” –Brian Voll

“Support the 24hr email response rule – for your own mental health and the health of your colleagues, clients and friends. Unless there is an emergency no email has to be replied to immediately.” –Yuli Ziv, founder and CEO of Style Coalition

I’m Lost

One of the main things we use our devices for is navigation. It’s easy to leave the house with nothing more than a general sense of where you’re headed, and look up the actual address when you get closer. But without a maps app, what’s a lost traveler to do? You have a few options: 


Buy a map of your area: You should have one anyway. “I try to print out maps when we’re going places,” says Tiffany Shlain, digital filmmaker and founder of the Webby Awards.

Ask for directions: Overcome your fear of speaking to strangers and start asking for directions. Better yet, ask for recommendations on local places to frequent, like restaurants. Thurston did this:

“Since I couldn’t query my online network for local dining and culture options, my massage therapist became my recommendation engine. She told me of several restaurants and sites to check out. She transmitted this data by writing down the names on a piece of paper … For lunch I frequented Chuko, where the server recommended the pork-belly ramen. This was not the server, mind you, but a human server who proclaimed, ‘Try the pork-belly ramen.’ What an algorithm.”

Give your self a time cushion: If you get lost, you’ll have sufficient enough time to ask for help. 

I Miss Sharing

Share with the people around you: During his detox, Thurston walked past a whole pig stuffed into a plastic bag on the sidewalk. “Twenty-four hours earlier, I would have Instagrammed this image, along with a suitably witty comment; instead I saved my snapshot for later viewing by people physically close enough to see my phone.”

“Whenever I get the urge to do something online, I find its counterpart in real life and do it. It’s all about the emotion and feeling you get from being ‘plugged.’ For example, if I felt like I need to post a photo on Instagram, I show it to my colleagues and friends. If I want to share info (personal or general knowledge), I call a friend or share it with colleagues. And so forth. Mainly, I find something around me that would give me a similar feeling and emotion to the one I get from the digital life or interactions.” –Alanoud AlMadhi, projects analyst


“I need to reming myself if I’m on my phone I might be missing my actual life. Look at the people right around me.” Gia Medeiros, marketing and organizational catalyst

Got any advice on how to #unplug? Tell us here, or tweet your thoughts to @FastCompany using the #unplug hashtag.

[Woman: Everett Collection via Shutterstock | Illustrations by Max-o-matic]

About the author

Jessica Hullinger is a London-based journalist who covers science, health, and innovation. She currently serves as a Senior Editor at