Today’s technology is truly marvelous – you feel like you can access the combined learning from all human history with a few clicks on a pocket-sized device. Or play Candy Crush. Both are remarkable in their own way.
However, this technology has its downsides. Constant notifications mean it’s difficult to switch off and this can have a negative effect on your mental health and productivity.
After two decades of working in the digital industry, Tanya Goodin realized the effect of spending so much time online was having on her health. Goodin now advocates taking regular breaks from electronics, with her new book OFF. Your Digital Detox For A Better Life, providing practical advice for cutting downtime on tech.
Why did you write OFF?
“After 22 years in digital I started to realize that I had symptoms that I thought were related to screen overuse,” says Goodin.
“I investigated what using screens too much is actually doing to us and I became quite evangelical about the benefits of spending time off-screen.
“Everybody jokes about it – that we’re all addicted to our phones – but actually it’s quite hard for people to put their phones down. And when they do they’re amazed at the differences in how they feel and how they're able to concentrate.”
What are the symptoms of screen overuse?
“Sleep is the first casualty – [you suffer] interrupted sleep or sleep of very poor quality,” says Goodin.
“Focus and productivity are also real issues. We’ve all bought into this idea that we can multitask, but actually multitasking doesn’t exist, it’s just split focus. The irony is that we think having our phones 24/7 makes us more productive, but actually I’ve found it’s making us less because our concentration spans are just shot to pieces. That was one of the first things I noticed – that I couldn’t read a book all the way through.
“Another problem is that creativity needs headspace and we’re no longer allowing ourselves headspace. After even a second of boredom, we’re picking up our phones. I felt I stopped having good ideas, or any ideas, and when I spent time off-screen they all came back.
“There’s also stress and anxiety, and depression. Lots of mental health issues are particularly associated with spending too much time on social media.”
How long do you need to spend off-screen to notice an improvement?
“After 24 hours you would probably notice a difference,” says Goodin. “I encourage people to think about doing two or three hours here and there. You get a breather when you do that. But if you really want to experience a lessening of anxiety, stress and improvements in sleep, I think 24 hours is what you need to aim for.
“I promote something I call the 5:2 digital diet, which is all about spending two days a week off-screen, which gives you time to reset and recharge.”
What are your tips for people trying to reduce their use of digital devices?
“I really like using airplane mode on my phone so I’m not distracted by notifications,” says Goodin. “If you feel you can’t leave your phone at home, take it with you but put it on airplane mode or switch off all notifications. I've been doing that for two years now. Then you choose when you’re checking the phone. It’s about putting the phone back in the place of being a tool, instead of being beholden to it.
“But my top tip is to stop sleeping with your phone by your bed. The excuse for that is ‘I need my phone because it’s my alarm clock’ – so buy an alarm clock! Everybody is scrolling late into the night and first thing in the morning. People are even checking their phones in the middle of the night.
“If you want to have an immediate impact on your sleep, buy an alarm clock and put your phone outside your bedroom or in a drawer overnight. That can have a huge impact.”