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Time to log off – why a digital detox could be exactly what you need

A self-imposed break from technology can improve your personal and professional life.

​The statistics tell it all: on average, we now spend one whole day each week online, with some people clocking in more than 40 hours a week. A third of us feel cut off or lost if we can’t get online, and 17% find it stressful.

Are we addicted to our smartphones?

David Price, CEO at health and wellbeing provider Health Assured, says: “While internet addiction isn’t yet an official diagnosis, it’s clear the internet is perhaps too important to many lives. Just think about the outpouring of fury every time Facebook suffers an outage or Twitter loads slowly.”

We definitely appear to be addicted to our smartphones: Ofcom’s research shows we check them every 12 minutes, 71% of us never turn them off, and 78% admit they couldn’t live without them.

A blessing and a curse

Of course, our smartphones and constant access to the internet have transformed how we interact with each other and the world – we can work flexibly, we can easily and quickly communicate across geographies and stay better and more connected to friends, family and colleagues.

But are we really more connected?

Miti Ampoma, communications expert at Miticom and author of a new guide, Take it Offline, doesn’t think so:

“While we may send and receive lots of emails and messages, we’re not connecting on a personal, human level. When writing from behind the barrier of a screen, with no non-verbal cues to provide context, there’s no way to understand what the other person really means and how they’re feeling about the message. It’s all very impersonal and you don’t build strong human relationships this way.”

Are digital devices stealing our time and attention?

A five-minute break on Facebook here and there can easily amount to a couple of hours. And our productivity and work relationships can suffer as a result.

“Good work relationships require our concentration, collaboration and being in tune with what’s happening in the office – this can prove difficult if you are constantly distracted by your smartphone,” says Matt Weston, managing director at Robert Half UK.

Staring at screens for prolonged periods can lead to eye strain and headaches, too. Some studies have also found that exposure to the blue light the screens emit suppresses the production of melatonin in the body, which can make it hard to fall asleep and to get the full benefit of a night’s rest.

The benefits of logging off

On a personal level, just think what you could do with all this time if you overcame the Fear of Missing Out and got off social media (for example).

“Scrolling through endless feeds of other people’s lives is eating into the time we could be spending on living our own,” says Stephen Humphreys, the UK general manager at GoodHabitz, online platform for personal development and soft skills learning.

“Even if you only cut back on one of the social media channels, you’ll find time to get through quite a few chapters of a book in a day, run or walk 5K, meditate, or just go to bed earlier.”

How often do you offload your thinking to Google, and search for the answer to a problem online, rather than try and come up with a solution yourself?

Problem solving without using technology

Price says: “Getting back to basics and solving problems using nothing more than your brain and a piece of paper will sharpen your analytical and creative thinking abilities. You may even find yourself revisiting skills and proficiencies you forgot you had.”

It appears the longer the break (especially when combined with spending time in nature), the bigger the benefits. One study shows that an hour spent outdoors can improve short-term memory and attention span by 20%, whereas hiking while “unplugged” for a few days could mean a 50% spike in your creativity.

Tips for a digital detox:

  • set timers: say, a maximum of an hour a day for web use
  • block unproductive sites entirely
  • be brave and switch your smartphone off
  • make a conscious effort to send fewer emails and messages and delete those you’ve received but don’t need to reply to
  • only read and reply to your emails and messages at set times during the day. Outside of those times, turn off your notifications

For more useful tips on managing your time:

Iwona Tokc-Wilde is a business journalist.

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