For five days every year, I turn off all my screens and disconnect from the internet.
I've been doing annual digital detoxes since I was about 18. These five-day retreats have helped me to make time for creativity, reflection and important relationships.
Now, I can hardly imagine my year without some time spent unplugged. Here are four reasons:
Making time for items on my bucket list
Technology is meant to help us make efficient use of the minutes in each day. Most of the time, having a phone does make daily tasks more convenient. For example, I know my colour-coded list and calendar apps help me to stay on top of commitments.
But having emails at my fingertips and notifications knocking on the doors of my mind space in my waking hours can mean the boundaries between leisure time and work time blur. Even though my to-do list gets satisfyingly cleared, these little bites of screen time can eat away at the spaces I'd set aside for less urgent but not less important things.
My digital detox helps me keep track of the items on my bucket list and make time for them. Whether it's a road trip to a random destination, contacting an old friend, or getting to that thick brick of a book I haven't had the time to read, taking five days out of my normal digitised routine helps me to at least remember and at most accomplish the life-enriching things I've always wanted to do.
This year, I crossed a few items off my to-read list and filled some postcards for friends overseas.
Making sure screen time doesn't replace face-to-face time
If I'm not careful, I could easily replace face-to-face interactions with group chat conversations. Messaging is easy and mostly noncommittal. I know it's no replacement for a good one-on-one conversation. But scheduling conflicts, and those pesky notifications, can get in the way of making time for relationships.
For this reason, I always go on my digital detox with friends. We read together, write together and spend time catching up. Making our digital detox about spending quality time with each other means we don't miss social media (most of the time). Our time away from our screens becomes about enjoying the moment.
This year, I definitely learned new things about friends I've had for a chunk of my adult life. I also came away with a few personal lessons only time with friends can give.
Letting creativity flow
Even though I set limits around my technology use once the workday is done, it can be hard to switch off the running tasks in my mind, to unplug from the draining need to get stuff done. Taking Wi-Fi and screens out of my everyday equation also gets rid of the productivity bugbear.
Being screen-free helps me to put creativity first. I get to stretch out a canvas, open a blank page in my journal and go for it. My digital detox helps me to focus on process, not output. I give myself time to enjoy the trial and error of making something new just for the sake of the exercise.
This year's creative pursuits included writing a few poems and going for sunset photography walks.
Reflecting on what I really need
Most importantly, my annual digital detox is a priority reset. It helps me to keep the rest of the year in perspective by reminding me what I really need to spend my time on, what and who I need to give my attention to.
While technology is amazing and I won't be chucking my phone in the bin anytime soon, it's nice to know I can thrive without it.