Digital detox: How to stop mindlessly surfing the Internet

Quick update to this post: I wrote this last week, and then had some issues with my website, so have not been able to post it. Therefore, I am well past Day 3 of my digital detox. I have kept it up but I am not going to add to this post. Just know that I am still largely internet free at this time.

Day 3 of not mindlessly surfing the Internet!

How is it going? Much easier than expected.

I started my 1-month internet detox on Monday, which was a day off. Although I am trying to learn willpower, for the first day I used Self Control. I posted a farewell on Facebook and a link to my last blog post, and then signed off for the night on Sunday. I knew the temptation to check on Monday would be great, since I hadn’t seen the reactions to my post and my link. And I knew that it would be easy to fall into a rabbit hole Monday morning. Finally, I was aware that on day 1, my resolve might be a bit weak. So on Sunday night, I turned Self Control on for 24 hours.

Self Control blocked Facebook (my worst time suck by far), many of the news sites I visit, reddit, Instagram, and some other sites. It was a good call on the first day. Self Control blocks across all browsers, and I don’t have any of those things on my phone.

If Self Control is so effective, why don’t I just use it every day? Because I am basically a child and will feel resentful if someone else has imposed restrictions, even if that someone else is a something else, and it is something that I set.

I know this is true because I have done this with myself far too many times. I need to find it within and own it. When I eventually return to the internet and set rules, I may use it then, but only as a guideline and a reminder.

This week’s log (so far)

Monday was good. I went on Amazon once or twice to purchase bright white light bulbs and research happy lights because Seasonal Affective Disorder bites our family hard each year. I was able to look at those things and leave Amazon. No diversions.

My other uses of the internet Monday:

  • Credit check. There was something a bit off on my weekly check, so I
  • Got my free credit report (Experian). Set up reminders on my Google Calendar to get copies of my Expedia and Transunion reports in 4 months and 8 months time.
  • Set up an account on Credit Karma, checked my other two reports, and looked at all sorts of nifty things on there
  • Visited to play with my debt snowball
  • Checked for unclaimed cash at Credit Karma’s suggestion. Found none.
  • Stumbled onto Quora because there was a question and response in my email and I was weak. But changed subscriptions so I no longer get those updates. I was on quora for 3 minutes total.
  • Checked to make sure the thrift shop was open
  • Looked at my budget
  • Searched coffee shop options
  • Perused events at local libraries and parks and recs
  • Listened to music using Youtube music

Total time spent online Monday: 3 hours and 17 minutes.

1 hour of that was evenly broken up between: amazon, credit karma, and youtube music.

I also used my phone for 3 hours and 8 minutes on Monday! I like this new Digital Wellbeing setting. Half of that time was in messages. I spent almost an hour there on Chrome as well, but it doesn’t break down how it was spent. I have turned Rescue Time on for my phone now, so I will track going forward.

Tuesday was my first day back to work after starting the fast.

It was hard but okay. I made some shifts in thinking that I will outline later.

Obviously, as an analyst I spend hours and hours on my computer at work. I have always been pretty good about keeping my work computer on work stuff. I don’t sign into my personal Chrome/Google account and don’t sign in to or visit facebook, reddit, or instagram on my work computer.

At work, I am signed into my library account and my LinkedIn (which I rarely visit). But the news sites were starting to creep into my day.

Not this week though.

I looked at a NY Times article for a Toastmasters project, and then closed the tab. Due to a tech issue, I had to engage with the stack exchange website, and was able to leave with only the slightest glance at other questions in the side bar. I spent a lot of time with SQL and our strategic plan. When I would get frustrated or stuck, I would walk away for a minute instead of checking my phone for news or plugging away at a word puzzle online.

Throughout this blog post, when I write about my computer, I am referring to my personal laptop, which I usually leave at home and only access after work and on weekends. In that same vein, the phone I refer to is my personal phone. I also used my work phone throughout the week but didn’t track on there. However, it is stripped pretty bare. I can check my work email, call, text, or listen to music or podcasts.

On Tuesday, I spent an hour and a half on my computer, with the bulk of that time spent on benefits enrollment info. I spent an an hour and a half on my phone, and 1 hour of that was on messaging.

Wednesday, I spent 2 1/2 hours on my phone.

However, 1 hour and 15 minutes of that was on maps, which is just my commute home. I spent an hour on messages, and that was pretty much the day.

And that day, Wednesday–I spent no time on my computer! I didn’t even open it!

Possible causes: I didn’t spend any time on the computer.

Thursday, I used my computer for 2 hours and 15 minutes, half of which was spent on this blog post! And 55 minutes on my phone, 25 of those were on messaging.

What I did instead

I have been reading quite a bit. I finished the Digital Minimalism book and also It Happened Like This: A Life in Alaska. One of the things the Internet has robbed me of is my attention span for the long form written word. It is so easy to click away when reading online: clicking a link, jumping to another tab, searching for a concept you ran across in the post you are reading. I have found it is increasingly difficult to sit for long periods of time and just read a book without distraction. That is one of my goals this month, just read books as often as I want. Instead of desperately trying to read a chapter at 11 pm after spending the night mindlessly surfing, I now can come home and sit and read for a couple of hours.

At work, the automatic phone pick up and check is intense.

I can leave my phone in another room at home and forget to check it for hours at a time. But at work, it is right there and the checking is constant. I removed my gmail icon from the first pages of my phone. Now I have to scroll up to find it. I finally put a picture of Dex on my home page, and now I very often open the phone, look at Dex, realize there is nothing to do there, and close it again. So much of this process is breaking that auto-pilot muscle memory habit.

While reviewing the findings for this blog post, I see the big pull towards text messaging. This one is hard to give up because it is a connection to family and friends throughout the day. I know that tone cannot be determined by text, but most of the people I text with are people I know really well and we can infer each other’s tones and intentions. However, it is a counterproductive to deep work to be constantly pulled out of a job to check texts.

What happens after the digital detox? 

Next week, I will experiment with the do not disturb settings if I am using my phone for music and want it nearby, or moving it into my bag and out of sight during work hours. Then I will check messages only every hour or two. Another option is to turn my screen black and white. I do this at night with the digital wellbeing app. The result is disturbing, but effective. Turning the screen color off helps break up the dopamine-fueled hit we are seeking. I have turned off all those little red circle notifications on the apps and I find that more restful, which lends credibility to the idea that this would be effective for me.

My new approach and perspective on news media consumption will need its own blog post. But I have radically altered my news media habits this week. This week, I have no news time logged on my personal computer.

I can feel the Internet’s hold on my brain releasing. My urge to know of breaking news, to check for likes, to scroll just to scroll, it is all dissipating. I was in a meeting today. I didn’t know most of the people, and the conversations were all around me with little room to wedge into them. But I forced myself to leave my phone in my pocket. To sit and appreciate the room, the conversations swirling around me, and the people who had gathered there. I forced myself to take a position of rest.

A woman sitting at the beach at sunset, probably enjoying a digital detox
Photo by VisionPic .net from Pexels