Taking Back My Freedom
Designing my digital world in service of me
On the first Sunday of 2021, I decided to try out one month of phone-free Mondays just to see how that would affect me. I’m always exploring new habits and challenging my old ways in order to improve my life and not getting to stuck in patterns no longer serving me. Suffering from serious sleep problems and feeling out of touch with myself, I hoped decreasing my phone time would help me gain a little peace of mind.
Acting immediately upon my idea, I informed my connections on social media about my experiment, turned off all sounds on my phone and placed it in the kitchen cupboard that evening before going to bed – somewhere I couldn’t reach without putting in some effort (for a short moment, I even considered leaving it in the basement). Waking up the next day, I was hyper aware of where my phone was, but I didn’t give in. I went to my home office space and started working.
And I kept working. Because my phone wasn’t laying next to me, I rarely thought about it or felt the urge to check anything. However, when I decided to call it a day, it got harder. I had to use some willpower to keep myself from the kitchen cupboard, but I managed. I went to bed that evening without having checked my phone once for the whole day.
What really made me stick to it more than anything – willpower is rarely enough to achieve anything – was my sleep deprivation. I so desperately needed to heal my insomnia that I’d probably even been capable of quitting coffee completely if I’d decided it was necessary (and I’m tellin’ ya, I’m a serious addict). I needed sleep, so whenever I felt the urge to grab my phone, I reminded myself of this: That it was a decision between short-term gratification and long-term satisfaction.
But enough already. Let me cut to the chase and tell you how my monthlong experiment went:
Monday has become my second-favorite day of the week, only topped by Wednesday, which has been declared meeting-free by the company I work for. I wasn’t aware of how stressed out it made me to have my phone with my at all times. It’s such a relief to have one day a week where I’m just not reachable and where I can focus without any interruptions.
So without a doubt, I will continue this habit in February. But what’s more, this innocent decision I made on that first Sunday of the year has started an avalanche of disconnecting: I’ve switched to the emailing service hey.com which has no red badges, no sounds and puts a strong emphasis on privacy; I have removed all banners from my phone, so my screen doesn’t light up throughout the day — so only when I’m on my phone anyway to check something, I see if I have received any messages; I have removed the menu bar on my MacBook, so I cannot follow the ticking of the clock; and I have installed a chrome plug-in that replaces my Facebook feed with an inspirational quote.
The relief is immense. No attention-seeking flashes, no demanding sounds, no stressful red circles, no constantly checking the time. Simply no distractions unless I actively seek them out and put some effort into activating them. And I barely do. I’ve had weeks without my Facebook feed. Haven’t missed it one bit.
This first month of experimentation has been amazing. I feel like I’m slowly regaining my freedom. My thoughts are clearer, my focus is greater, and I’m more productive throughout the day. I don’t feel stressed out anymore when I go for walks without my phone in my pocket. I sleep better at night. I lose myself in my tasks, having no sense of time to obey to. And I get so much more writing done. I’ll admit, I still struggle a bit with having no badge alert me when a new email has entered my inbox (I’ve grown too used to always being up to date emailwise), but at the same time, part of me really enjoys finally being a bit in control again. I don’t mindlessly let my actions be guided by red circles and sudden flashes. I mindfully decide when I will check my apps. And the best thing is, even on the days when I’m allowed to be on my phone, I check it less. Finally, my actions feel like mine again and not like the actions of an automaton.
My next trial will be to turn off the internet on my laptop every night before going to bed, so I have undisturbed time for writing in the mornings with no chance to check Twitter or my email — my two main online addictions at the moment. So far, I’ve kept forgetting it, but this will be the intention for February: Giving myself an hour to write before I go online. That should be doable.
Being online and available around the clock has become completely normal and almost expected in our society. Answering my emails fast has been something I’ve taken pride in (I’ve always been bad at WhatsApp and Messenger, though, so no change there anyway for my contacts). However, comparing how I felt in December with how I feel now at the end of this experimental month, I’m more than ever questioning the healthiness of this constant availability.
Changing my gadget habits has unlocked so much time I didn’t know I had. In January, I’ve managed to read 5 books. I’ve written the first 20 pages of a book. I’ve found time to dance for half an hour almost every day. And I go to bed at night without a headache (I haven’t been able to do that for a year).
So I can only conclude: If you feel stressed out or anxious, if you feel like you don’t have enough time, if you have trouble sleeping, or if something just feels a little bit off, I seriously recommend giving a few of these experiments a go. It’s been a game-changer for me.