The New Habit Challenge: Can A Digital Detox Make Room For Big Ideas?

Next week we’ll try a different challenge every day in an attempt to cut our dependence on our phones.

The New Habit Challenge: Can A Digital Detox Make Room For Big Ideas?
[Photo: Flickr user Steve Davidson]

How often do you clutch your phone as you walk down the street or quickly swipe through Facebook or Twitter while standing in line? Without even realizing it, many of us are constantly connected to our phones and denying ourselves those moments of boredom our brains deserve.


While boredom may seem like a waste of time, Manoush Zomorodi, host of WNYC’s New Tech City podcast, says that we need these moments to tap into some of our most creative thinking.

During a recent study at the University of Lancashire, researcher Sandi Mann gave subjects various boring tasks to complete and then asked them to use their creative thinking. The subjects who had the most boring task–reading the phone book–came up with the most interesting uses for plastic cups, which is a standard test of divergent thinking.

As Mann told Zomorodi, “You come up with really great stuff when you don’t have that easy, lazy, junk food diet of the phone to scroll all the time.”

Mann’s research prompted Zomorodi’s upcoming Bored and Brilliant challenge. The weeklong challenge will have us make time that is completely phone-free to encourage spacing out.

Each day will present a different challenge. Here’s how it works:

Before The Challenge

If you’re using an iPhone, download the Moment app, and if you’re using an Android phone, download the Break Free app.


Before you start the challenge, just use your phone like you always do. These apps will show you how much you use your phone before the challenge as a baseline and help track your progress throughout the week.

Day 1: Monday, February 2, “In Your Pocket”

Keep your phone tucked away while walking down the street or in transit.

Day 2: Tuesday, February 3, “Photo Free Day”

Just say no to Instagram; take no pictures today. See the world for a day just through your eyes, not through your phone’s screen.

Day 3: Wednesday, February 4, “Delete That App”

Choose the app that you are most addicted to and waste the most time on and delete it.

Day 4: Thursday, February 5, “Take a Fauxcation”

Schedule an away message telling the world you are focusing on off-line projects. Even just for an hour spend time completely away from your phone. You can take this to the next level by unplugging completely, ignoring all your communication devices including laptops and iPads.

Day 5: Friday, February 6, “One Small Observation”

Take your newfound phone-free time and notice something you would have missed before.


Day 6 and 7: Saturday, February 7 and Sunday, February 8, Get Bored Then Try A Creative Task

Get bored and take on a creative task, inspired and guided by artist Nina Katchadourian, who uses boredom as her muse. Nina will reveal your creative task early Saturday morning, so be sure to check out the New Tech City podcast that day for more details.

I hope you’ll join us as we venture into the realm of boredom and creativity in conjunction with New Tech City. We’ll be chatting live with Manoush Zomorodi on Tuesday, February 10 at 11 a.m. ET. when she’ll share the results of her Bored and Brilliant challenge.

Tune in to find out how it went and share your experiences with your own digital detox. Or send an email with what your thoughts on this challenge to by end of day Monday, February 9.

About the author

Rachel Gillett is a former editorial assistant for’s Leadership section. Her work has been featured on,, and elsewhere