I believe that one of the most important aspects of self-care is the conscious use of devices. I hadn’t realised the impact of being constantly connected with seemingly everything via my smartphone and laptop until I went completely device-free for 10 whole days during a meditation course in 2015. Imagine that you’re standing right in the middle of the busiest place you’ve ever been in. Now imagine that you are wearing a spacesuit, floating in outer space. Going device-free is like that. There’s a quiet which is nothing like you’ve ever experienced before.
The merit(s) of unplugging
In one word, time. In many words, time to do all that you’ve wanted to do but haven’t been doing because you’re busy compulsively watching Money Heist on Netflix.
Going back to my earlier example, at the beginning of the 10-day course, it felt unnatural to be so…disconnected from everything. I remember feeling a sense of unease knowing that I had no access to my phone. Even more alarming was this new thing I had for company – my own thoughts. However, at the end of those 10 days, I liked how calm and quiet my mind was. It was as if a massive part of my mental RAM had freed up which could now be directed to worthier pursuits. How often hadn’t I complained about not having enough time for reading books or spending time with my loved ones? Well, guess what. The lesser the time I spent on the internet, the greater the time I had to sit in a coffee shop with a hot cup of hazelnut latte reading Little Women.
In this world of devices, apps, social media, notifications, and constantly being in touch, it’s impossible and also counter-productive to unplug all the time. However, it’s important that we begin to use devices consciously, lest we are swallowed into the bottomless pit of the internet. Defining boundaries is critical. I’m currently reading a book called Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. They refer to anything that’s a massive time suck (such as emails and social media) as infinity pools. I couldn’t agree more. Ever experienced clicking on a link only to realise that 3 hours have passed and you’ve been surfing the internet mindlessly? That’s the infinity pool…it’s never-ending.
How does self-care relate to using devices consciously?
A couple of days ago, I caught myself feeling overwhelmed and irritable. I didn’t quite know why, though. It wasn’t like anything had happened, specifically. I decided to not think too much and go to bed. When I woke up the next morning, the answer came to me as I sat in the bright morning sun sipping my coffee and listening to the chirping of the birds. I was feeling like I was ‘online’ all the time. I have been participating in the Ultraworking Pentathlon, hosting a daily virtual ‘work cafe’ with friends, and also been quite active in the forums of an online community that I’m a part of. I was basically online ALL the time. Added to this was the fact that I was going to bed late, waking up late and staying online until my last waking minute. No wonder I was feeling so cranky.
In my enthusiasm to participate, ‘be a good team member’, and be connected with others, I ignored my mental well-being. In this digital age, a core part of mental health is not letting all those devices, apps, and social media platforms dictate your actions. In fact, research shows that social media can lead to depression and loneliness. It’s critical that we control devices and not the other way around. This needs us to consciously create boundaries and define a relationship with devices that enhances our experience of life – not take away from it.
Q4 of 2019 was when I consciously started creating boundaries around device use which helped me be more productive and feel great overall. Ever since I started experimenting, I’ve found that some tricks have worked wonders for me. I’m sharing them here:
Switching off all devices at least an hour before bedtime
It took a little bit of effort initially, but I got used to switching off devices by 10 pm and the results were so awesome that I had no problem following this ‘rule’. The main benefit was that I gave my brain a ‘stopping point’. Any thinking or worrying it wanted to do had to happen the next day. It also signaled to it that it was time to wind down and go to sleep. I went to bed an hour later and my sleep became more restful because my mind got ample time to indulge in non-device-related activities and slow down.
Waking up with a physical alarm clock
I seldom use any sort of alarm clock. But when I do need to use one, I don’t ever use my phone. I use a physical alarm clock instead. This helps me not reach for the phone first thing in the morning.
Not checking the smartphone until after 8 am
Since I would go to sleep by 11 pm, I would awaken by 6 am. By not allowing myself to check my smartphone for notifications until after 8 am, I was able to use the first couple hours of my day to work on projects that were important to me such as a course I was doing or journaling. That instantly made my day super productive.
Keeping the smartphone away while working
You won’t believe how productive you’ll be when you don’t compulsively check Whatsapp in the middle of a project. I later trained myself to not check email either – and that helped tremendously too.
Removing apps that you compulsively check
As I mentioned earlier, I’m a part of a lovely online community and I truly think it’s one of the best things that’s happened to me. However, I realised that I needed to stop compulsively checking the forums and limit the amount of time I spent there. To that end, I decided to remove the app from my phone and only access the community on my laptop and try not to spend more than 15-20 minutes. It’s been working well so far. It is also more gratifying because when I do log in, I’m fully immersed there and am even more efficient. I encourage you to do the same with any app that you use more often than necessary. You’ll find it freeing and rewarding.
This year, I’d really like to explore self-care as it related to how I use devices. I’ll be sure to share any good practices that I discover. I’d also love to learn any tips that have worked for you. Feel free to share in the comments below.