4 Ways to Unplug Without Going Cold Turkey

Some days you can feel it: your brain is overwhelmed, hyperstimulated by social media, a million pinging devices (OK, four, but it feels like more) challenging your ability to stay focused on a task at hand. And if itís a big news day (elections, a scandal erupting, a natural disaster), forget it ó you might even be using more than one device at a time. According to a new report from the Center for Large-Scale Data Systems at the University of California San Diego, the average American will access 15.5 hours of media a day by 2015, which is only possible if you are watching TV while Facebooking on your phones, or some such combination.

Itís almost impossible to take a step back and even remember the days when you heard about events on the evening news after you got home from work. But once, not long ago, we did ó we waited until later to hear news, or to communicate with friends.

And while the science is still out on exactly what the long-term effects of our devices are on our brains (early information seems to point to negative impacts), I know I’m not the only for whom it just doesn’t feel good. And if you canít ó or donít want to ó go cold turkey and turn off your phone for a week and hang out in a yurt on a mountaintop (it seems like a better idea than the reality, in my experience), you can still reduce your dependence on being connected. Hereís what has worked for me.

1. Take stock of how much time you actually spend using devices: I had no idea how much time I spent (wasted?) frittering away online every day until I made a check on a Post-It every time I checked my Facebook and email. I did it for two days in a row and then counted. I know I can’t be the only one who, between my phone and my laptop, from wake-up time to bed, racks up an almost insane-sounding number of check-ins. On what I consider to have been normal days, I checked Facebook 23 times and my email more than 30. That’s just a waste of time, and just knowing how often I did it immediately made me less obsessive and more likely to stay on task.

2. Don’t get online until you start work: If you begin your days by rolling over and checking your phone, stop. Morning time can be yours (and your family’s) again, with just the simple new habit of waiting until you get to work ó or start work ó to check email and news sites. Want to get the news? Consider subscribing to your local or regional newspaper and reading the hard copy in the morning, in the quiet, over breakfast. Or, have a chat with your family, or spend that time meditating. There’s no reason to start work before you get to work, and morning time should be private time. I have found that keeping the phone off in the morning is the easiest time to resist the siren call of your phone and email, and it sets the tone for the rest of the day.

3. Take a real break: Often, it seems that taking a break during the workday means checking your personal email, Facebook account, or Twitter stream. But that’s not a real break. Take a walk, make a cup of tea, and most importantly, walk away from your desk or workspace. A real break will make you feel revived, helps your brain process information better, and ups your productivity and creativity ó checking your social media accounts is not the same thing.

4. Time yourself: If you find it hard to get through an entire movie at home without checking your phone or logging in, that is the perfect length of time to force yourself not to do so. Read a book for 60 or 90 minutes, watch a movie, garden, or go for a 45-minute walk, and make that time you specifically don’t check your phone or computer. Set a timer if you need to.

Related on MNN
Be More Successful by Doing Less
Why We Need Sundays

Want to Work Harder? Take a Break
7 Yoga Moves to Improve Concentration


Warren Webber
Warren Webber3 years ago

Live long and prosper

Pat P.
Pat P4 years ago

I've had some issues over the last few weeks with my Care 2 site; i.e, not accepting comment when clicked on, receiving "invalid request", losing long messages and having comments show up on unrelated articles.

So if you see something from me that makes absolutely no sense in relation to the subject matter, as I noted above, you'll understand why. I have seen quite a few. Some people have been kind enough to notify me. It could have been a particularly rough day, but more likely the former explanation fits.

I believe the situation has been resolved, now, hopefully.

Amanda M.
Amanda M4 years ago

I already live "semi-unplugged." It's not hard to live that way when your cell phone is a 5-year-old Katana, you prefer real books to e-readers, you have too much to do in the real world (such as nonstop housework or homesteading!), there's nothing but unwatchable garbage on TV, and somebody always beats you to the computer when you want to take a break long enough to check your email. Besides, we see no need to keep up with the Joneses, even where electronic gadgets are concerned. Not only is that a form of economic slavery, I tend to prefer human interaction to twiddling with text messages.

Not to mention I'm one of these e-klutzes who can't even get through the self-checkout at the grocery store without jamming it up because I think that using a grocery bag for one lousy item is completely wasteful and stupid and the damned computer insists that I bag the item anyway! And people wonder why I prefer the checkout that is operated by a real live human being! Don't even get me started on those double-damned automated phone menus! When I finally get through, my usual response is "Thank the gods! A human being!" If nothing else, it gets a chuckle from the operator on the other end.

Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage se4 years ago


Dale O.

Paenei C is spamming in Care2 aisle 1. She has no visible profile and is using the usual fake photo used by these sites. This photo was used before by another fake spammer under another yet another fake name. Please flag as these are websites that often will sell your information to other businesses and can also steal your identity if you give them your information. They do not have any interest in Care2 except to profit themselves and are weeds growing in Care2’s soil.

Some good ideas. I like the one about gardening, but it will have to be indoor gardening for me as it is getting cold out there and the freezing weather is on its way. It was here last week and has let up a bit, unleashing a lot of rain. However, next Spring is when more gardening is going to happen outside. Reading a book, going for walks and many other activities help fill a day or evening as well. Dreaming up a plot on how to the end cold weather is another project, a constant veggie growing temperature would be ideal. A dream, I know as winter is not going away. But I wish the spammers would exit stage left, permanently.

Sue H.
Sue H4 years ago

Sound advice, thanks.

Fi T.
Past Member 4 years ago

The break should be for our family and ourselves

Autumn S.
Autumn S4 years ago

thank you

Lynn C.
Lynn C4 years ago


Jess No Fwd Plz K.
Jessica K4 years ago

I enjoy a weekly paper, and I also much prefer reading traditional books to e-books. Too much time on the computer makes it seem like there's only one way to relate to the world. Moderation is key. Thanks.