In high school, when the height of my phone's technology was Snake, I read that it takes 13 minutes to re-focus on a task after reading a text. Even then, when my phone was little more than a T9 machine, I was surprised by the number. How could a 20-second text distract me for 13 minutes? These days, like most people, I use my phone for a whole lot more than crafting 160-character messages to crushes. I answer emails, map my commute, listen to podcasts, book workout classes, turn on my alarm system, play music, make plans with friends then scroll through the photos they post, and even read books on it. It's no wonder this article reported that it now takes an average of 25 minutes to re-focus after a tech interruption.
I've always considered myself to be fairly disciplined when it comes to screen time. Because I use my phone so much for work, I can be diligent to a fault about not using it when I'm home (to all the friends I still haven't texted back: I'm sorry). Still, if my screen time report is to be believed, I pick it up an average of 51 times a day. One day last week, I picked it up 358 times. I'm sure the vast majority of these pick-ups were automatic and mindless, but even those that are enriching and purposeful, like listening to a podcast, can be distracting. As a Digital Detox expert, Jess Davis, put it in this Well and Good article, "If our brains are always being entertained, we’re not allowing those a-ha moments to come to us."
I repeated this advice like a mantra last week when I turned my phone off for three days over the Fourth of July weekend. Most of my friends, Jonah included, had plans to head out of town, but I'd opted to stay home to regroup solo, something I try to do every now and then. While staying home over a holiday weekend could have been grounds for a FOMO disaster, I managed to mostly enjoy myself and felt fully recharged by the time my friends came back home Sunday. Read on for my tips for a successful phone-free weekend, and the results of mine:
My day literally begins with my phone: It's my alarm clock, then becomes my watch. Because we don't have a clock in our house, I usually check my phone upwards of ten times as I get ready in the morning, to keep an eye on the time. As a replacement, I went to Target and bought a watch. As it turns out, the least expensive thing I could find was a digital watch-alarm-clock I rocked all weekend (should I have splurged for the calculator watch?). Laugh all you want, but just having access to the time almost immediately removed the instinct to reach for my phone.
I thrive from structure, so it was essential for me to create at least a few set "plans" over my three solo days. Every day, I walked to coffee at 10 AM, then went to a 4:30 yoga class, which I pre-scheduled in Classpass ahead of the weekend. Since I always doubt my memory, I wrote the schedule down on paper so I had access to it. Though minimal, the coffee and yoga provided my days with an effective bookend.
Everything takes longer without a phone. On my way to yoga one afternoon, I got stuck in the Dodger's game traffic Waze would have routed me around. The next day, I couldn't call a sandwich spot ahead of time on the Fourth to make sure they were open, so I had to drive there to find out myself (they weren't). I quickly learned to slow down. When I got to yoga fifteen minutes early the next day (which has literally never happened to me since I'm perpetually late), I rolled out my mat and enjoyed some shavasana.
Once a month, I attend a deep work workshop where they take your phone at the door. The idea is that, even if your phone is off and in your purse or pocket, it can still significantly influence your cognitive abilities—the results are even worse if it's in sight, even face-down. I turned mine off and placed it in a purse in my closet to resist the temptation to turn it on.
My phone is my safety blanket. If I'm walking through a dark parking lot or ever feel unsafe, it's the first thing I reach for. I like the comfort of knowing I can swiftly call an emergency service if I need one, so turning it off for a weekend when Jonah was out of town made me feel uncomfortable, and there's nothing like experiencing anxiety to put a damper on a relaxing weekend. To that end, I did everything in my power to assuage my anxiety. I told my neighbors I was home alone (which turned out to be incredibly useful when two moderate, but scary earthquakes hit) and bolstered my alarm system in anticipation of my solo stay. Take whatever steps you need to feel comfortable, whether that's taking extra steps for your safety or making sure you have everything you need at home!
The Result: My biggest concern in spending the Fourth of July solo was how much FOMO I would feel, especially once fireworks kicked off. By the time they started, I was reading in my living room and had been without my phone for 24 hours. To my surprise, as the explosions illuminated my living room (my neighborhood goes hard on the Fourth) I didn't feel left out at all. Instead, the moment felt magical. Without any Stories or group texts to remind me of all the fun my friends were having without me, I was able to enjoy my own version of the evening, free from comparison. My solo 'experiment' got a bit more challenging the next day, when I started to feel bored and antsy, but I resisted the impulse to reach for my phone since I knew I'd be seeing friends the next day. By the time I did see them, I felt refreshed and beyond excited to catch up, a feeling that's carried through the start of my week! It was clear my experiment had made a lasting impact when I forgot my phone in the car overnight Sunday evening and again on Tuesday, and didn't notice until the morning... turns out a little separation can go a long way.