Unfriend Your Phone

This week's trek is inspired by UT Austin professor Art Markman's research on the best ways to disconnect from work.

Does it feel like your phone is stalking you?

My phone is good at following me around. I might be in the middle of a nice little Saturday - on a trip to Home Depot or maybe Bed, Bath and Beyond and, then, a notification: "Why Is Everyone So Mad About Ryan Gosling's New Space Movie?"

What? Ryan Gosling is in a space movie? And not Matt Damon? Is that why people are mad? And, then, I'm like oh, yes, that's right I need mulch. Let's buy mulch. But as I walk over to the gardening aisle, I notice that pesky red number in the upper right corner of the email app climbing at a steady rate. I let the little square lurk in the corner for a while as I fill my shopping cart. Once I'm in the car, I try not to look, but it's hard so I keep looking just to see what kind of email fix I can skim off the top, and, eventually, I get home and cave and let it have my Sunday. Who doesn’t love a good old Sunday email binge?

As Markman says, "When we can’t let go of work while we’re out of the office, we don’t get to enjoy the benefits of time away." We all know that staying close to our digital devices can be one of the biggest triggers to keep us focused on work even when we're off the clock.

Introducing Your Unfriend Your Phone Exercise

What It Is
A 20-minute exercise to find new ways to unfriend your phone when it's starting to feel like a stalker.

Why We Love It 
We all know that letting work habitually seep into our downtime isn’t the best thing for us. This exercise offers up a way to understand the potential benefits of digitally disconnecting from work on a more regular basis. 

How It Works
1.Take 5 minutes and reflect on your past week. Take note of how often you used your phone, laptop, or certain apps and how that usage related to your tendency to focus on work. If you've got an iPhone, check out screen time usage for some good insights.

2. Then, look at your week ahead and pick an afternoon, evening, or a few hours this week that you are willing to commit to being digitally disconnected. Yes, for real, we are asking you to put your phone on lock-down.

3. For the time you selected in #2, schedule a specific activity that you will do that won't require the use of your computer or phone. For example, schedule dinner with a friend, take a cooking class, or go for a hike. According to Markman, “Your habit system only learns a new habit when you perform an action, not when you don’t,” so scheduling something during this time is critical to avoiding the tendency to default to passive device-oriented behaviors (e.g., Facebook scrolling). 

4. For the time you’ve set aside, be sure to ditch your phone. If you are at a dinner with a friend give it to your friend for safe keeping. Leave it in your car, turn it off, or go big and leave it at work/home. 

5. When you get home from the activity, take a few minutes to reflect. What did it feel like at the beginning of your no-devices activity? What did it feel like at the end? How did you engage in the activity in a different way? How might you find at least 1-2 hours in your week each week to be more intentional about disconnecting?

Want to dig deeper?
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Shankar Desai