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Will Digital Detoxing Bring Back My Attention Span?

Updated: May 19

Clicking, swiping, scrolling, ignoring, swiping, clicking, scrolling....

I got to a point last year in my illustration and design business where I was using my phone more than my pencil, something had to change.

I've spoken in other posts about Why I Quit Facebook and wondered Do Creatives Really Need Instagram as I looked into how much time I was wasting on these platforms, whilst I was convincing myself that I was 'working'.

Our devices are designed to be addictive and so are the apps that we use, it's no wonder why we struggle to stay off them. In this post, I'm looking into this shiny thing that lives in my pocket, am I connected or am I attached to it?

Why Digital Detox?

I first heard of Digital Detoxing when fellow Stockport small business owner Paul Jardine of Root Web Design published a blog post that talked about his experience with digital detoxing and why he had switched to a simple 'banana phone.' After hearing about the positives that came from Paul's experiment, I decided to look into how it could help me.

In Paul's blog post, he recommends reading Cal Newport's book Digital Minimalism: Choosing A Focused Life In A Noisy World. I borrowed the only copy available at my local library (ironically, this copy only exists as an ebook spread across 7 separate CD's...). I was instantly hooked and I wanted to learn more about this brave shift to ditch the digital noise.

In his book Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport (we're not related btw) gives advice on a 30 day digital detox, shows research into our online habits and gives helpful advice and tips to stay on track.

Without the connection to the deeper world on the internet, our phones become less attractive. As Jenny Odell mentions in her book How To Do Nothing: Resisting The Attention Economy, that she accidentally stages her own digital detox retreat as she arrives at a cabin on a work trip. Unprepared for the cabin to be free from Wi-Fi and phone signal, she quickly became 'fascinated with how inert [her] phone appeared as an object'. It became 'just a black metal rectangle, lying there as silently as and matter-of-factly as a sweater or a book. Its only use was as a flashlight and a timer.'

Defining your Digital Detox

Notice the problem and be honest with yourself

Just 3 hours a day doesn't really feel like that much... but when you work it out to be 45.6 days a year.. I somehow can't believe that... I had to check 4 different Google pages (I don't trust my maths skills). FORTY FIVE AND A BIT DAYS spent with a bent neck, ignoring my surroundings and nothing to show for all that time. Imagine how great I'd be at something like learning an instrument or doing a sport if I did it for 3 hours every day?!

What if I'm missing out on something online?... - What if I'm not..?

Start off by finding out how much time you spend on your phone every day, your phone should tell you in the settings. Set a goal of how much time you'd actually like to spend on your phone during the day.

Put some stops in the way

- The Forward Step To Analog.

A tap on the smartwatch to see what time it is.. oh a notification from Whatsapp... Take the phone out of your pocket to check the time.. oh a notification from Instagram... What time was it again? I don't mean to brag but my analog watch tells the time AND it glows in the dark- wit woo!

Putting simple analog stops in the way can help to keep my phone out of my hand. An analog watch, a paper shopping list, using a paper recipe book, using an analog alarm clock, a paper diary etc..

- Make It More Difficult To Access

By removing things like facial recognition and finger print unlocking from your phone and actually typing the password in can help to flag up when you're subconsciously unlocking and checking on something. Moving apps around on the home screen and logging into certain sites via the web browser rather than the apps can also make you more conscious of your activity. Even something as simple as putting your phone in your bag instead of a pocket can help to put a big enough barrier in the way.

A Digital Declutter

Decluttering from corporate boring newsletters like Halfords or Tesco and unsubscribing from emails about lost cats and discounts on your cleaning products can help to reduce a lot of the noise that comes into your inbox. I made a habit of unsubscribing from all of the emails that popped up where I didn't want to hear from them again, instead I filled my inbox with newsletters from local shops and artists.

By switching off the notifications from making a sound or appearing on the home screen you can significantly reduce the amount of time your phone interrupts your flow of concentration.

Putting the phone out of reach

If all else fails, putting my phone in a different room helps when I need to work on something. Getting up from my chair, walking to the room it's in and picking it up is a lot more effort than just unlocking it and becoming distracted. I put it in a backpack rather than my pocket when I go for a walk and I make sure I don't charge my phone close to my bed at night - no notification is getting me out of bed to walk to the other side of the room!

How Is It Working So Far?

Every now and then I analyse what I want more of in my life and what I want less of. By saying that I want to spend less time distracted by my phone, it gave me a goal to work towards that includes small wins like reducing screen time gradually and reducing how frequently I check my phone during the day. This gives me more time to do the things I actually enjoy.

I uninstalled the apps I don't want to waste my time on, I turned off all of my notifications and stopped them from popping up on my lock screen and I brought in some analog systems to stop unnecessary distractions.

Technology isn't always a bad thing, when we need to get somewhere quickly and easily, Google Maps and Uber can help to relieve a lot of travel anxiety and help to plan a safer route. Podcasts can help to inform us on interesting topics in a conversational way. Online banking can help us to see our finances and keep track easily as well as send and receive money without making a trip out to the bank.

Taking part in this experiment has shown to lengthen my attention span over time, I still unnecessarily check my phone (like when I was writing this post!). I definitely have a healthier relationship with my phone now and I'm still working to improve it.


Have you ever been on a digital detox retreat? Are you the type of person who could go cold turkey with a digital detox or would you have to do it slowly? Have you found any analog systems that help to reduce your distractions?


If you have a friend who might enjoy this kind of discussion, feel free to share this with them or if you have any thoughts on this subject please do leave a comment or drop me an email. To keep up with the latest blog posts, join my monthly round up here.

More on this:

- More great content from Paul Jardine My Social Dilemma article.

-Another great read is the book Stolen Focus by Johann Hari who reaches breaking point at Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion when most of the visitors are opting to use the interactive iPad tour instead of enjoying the experience of the real life objects that are right in front of them. This leads to his own digital detox experiment and looking deeper into how technology is pulling us in.

-Another interesting article as mentioned in Cal Newport's book: "I Used To Be A Human Being An Endless Bombardment of News and Gossip and Images Has Rendered Us Manic Information Addicts. It Broke Me. It Might Break You, Too" by Andrew Sullivan.

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