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My Forced Digital Detox

Posted by Isabel Affinito on Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019 at 5:07pm

June sent me several blessings in disguise in the form of tech trouble.

First, I dropped my phone in the pool. While the newer iPhones are water-resistant, that doesn’t apply if you drop them, frequently, as I do. So after several days in rice, I accepted that my phone was no more, and filed an insurance claim for a new one.

All told, I spent about 4 days phoneless, and I have to say I have not been that relaxed in years.

Every time I started to think “Maybe I should check and see if I have any texts/emails/social media messages...” I would realize I couldn’t, and feel a wave of relief. “Whatever might be waiting there,” I thought, “will just have to wait.”

I sent all of my clients an email at the beginning of my cell phone detox letting them know I’d be without a phone for a few days, and they were all super accommodating about communicating by email instead. And everything went fine.

If there were any real missed opportunities or emergencies in those 4 days, I have yet to learn of them.

All of which made me think, I’m not nearly as integral as I thought. And also, how can I get more of this in my life?

I was so relaxed that I have to admit, I didn’t turn my new phone on right away. I probably waited 24 hours after it arrived. I just couldn’t bring myself to reconnect right away.

There were some downsides, I’ll admit. First, I realized that I really don’t know how to get around without GPS, and as a real estate agent going to new addresses constantly, that’s a problem. Luckily, I only had one appointment during those 4 days, so I looked at a map on my laptop in advance and then made it work.

Also, not having a cell phone requires more advance planning and a lot clearer communication with others (where will you be and when, hours or days from now. Gasp. Imagine!) and that you actually keep your word about that. No more texting last minute “Where are we meeting?” Or “Sorry, I have to cancel.”

And I’ll just throw in here that it’s patently impossible to tour buyers these days without a cell phone. Between navigating to multiple addresses and opening Bluetooth lock boxes, it’s just not feasible.

In order to get by, I had to simplify my life and stick to plans. No more “Oh I’ll just run over and...” Or “Oh I’ll just handle this fire drill that came into my texts real quick.” No. If I hadn’t planned whatever it was well in advance, it wasn’t going to work.

Which got me thinking seriously about how I could create more space in my life. Chris looked at me skeptically when I started spinning my ideas about how to eliminate my cell phone and said “Is, you’re not exactly the easiest person to reach in the first place. Are you sure you want to become more unavailable?”

My business sense said “maybe not just yet” but my sense of well being said “hell yes.”

Emma also had a thing or two to say. When I finally got cell service again and called her, all zenned out, I was praying she would give me permission to just stay off my phone forever. I told her how relaxed I was, and that I wanted more of this in my life. But, I said, it wouldn’t be fair of me to start contemplating that without asking her, what were the last few days like for you? Were you happier, because I wasn’t calling you constantly and micromanaging you? Or was it hectic because you were doing damage control I didn’t even hear about?

A combination of both, she said. Don’t get rid of your cell phone just yet.

Two of the most important people in my life said they still need to talk to me. I guess I should be flattered, and grateful. Part of me still wants to donate everything I own, smash my screens with a rock and disappear into the wilderness with Rosie and a travel watercolor kit. Chris can join too if he wants, except he won’t, because these are exactly the kind of things he successfully talks me out of on a regular basis.

And I’d be bored in 5 days.

So I am still thinking on ways to build my business so that my clients get stellar service, but maybe the whole world doesn’t have my cell number. What is that solution? A well-run call center? A full time receptionist? An office number that forwards to certain team members based on schedules? A complete overhaul of my business?

I don’t know. I’m thinking on it.

Like I always do, I’ve begun dreaming of radical scenarios that would, if implemented, turn my entire life upside down.

And, like I always do, I’m not going to implement any of them. But I have made a few changes to get a little bit of that disconnection, without disconnecting entirely.

First, I discovered social media time limits. Did you know you can set a time limit for yourself in your settings, and your phone will lock you out of Instagram after a certain period of time? I now have my social media usage limited to 1 hour a day, and none of Fridays, my day off.

It makes me cringe to admit that I do often reach that 1 hour limit. And that it feels like a lot less than I used to use it. In fairness, I do use it to post things that are sort of business related. But still, that’s an hour of my day. That’s not nothing.

Second, I have yet to log into Facebook on my new phone. Every time I click it, which has been 100 times at least, the login screen comes up. Then I realize that I had no intention, consciously, of opening Facebook. Because if I did, I would remember I’m not logged in, because I don’t want to use it on my phone. But somehow, multiple times a day, I still find myself staring at a Facebook login screen going “how the hell did I get here?” I think that’s called “addictive behavior.”

The login screen, I’m happy to report, is much less rewarding than actual Facebook, and over time I find myself clicking that icon less and less.

Third, I’m more likely to leave my phone at home, or put it on airplane. One tweak I’ve made, which I think is good for everyone, is I now drop Chris a line like “going for a walk with Rosie” or Emma a line like “I’m focusing on a project until 1. Do you need me real quick before then?” In other words, I’m getting more proactive about communicating, a lesson I learned from being completely without a phone for days. People usual don’t get upset about not being able to reach you. They get upset when they can’t reach you AND they don’t know why AND you left a loose end you shouldn’t have.

So I figure if I proactively manage things so we have fewer fire drills, and I set expectations, I should be able to spend a bit less time on my phone and a bit more time enjoying my life. I’ll let you know how it goes.

In addition to my cell phone detox, I also spent about 2 weeks in June without a laptop. When I went into Apple with my waterlogged phone, I said “By the way, the keyboard on my laptop does weird things.” They offered to order a part, and said it would be a one day turn around to install it. It was more like 6, and then I was too busy to make it back over there for several more.

I got by on an iPad, and the limited functionality actually kept me more focused I think. That being said, I enjoyed being without a phone WAY more.

When you have no phone but you do have a laptop, you can get a lot of work done while you’re undistracted.

On the flip side, when you have a phone but no laptop, then it chimes with all kinds of distractions and people asking you to do things, some of which are really annoying to do without a laptop.

So in terms of which was more enjoyable, I’ll take no phone any day. But in terms of what I really need to run my business, I’d take no laptop.

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