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10 tips to help reduce your time online

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I’d like to think that all of my years of mindfulness training mean that I always behave in intentional ways, but here’s what I’ve discovered lately.

I’m becoming addicted to my mobile phone.

I find ways to justify checking. “Maybe one of my girls needs me” is my main one. When I recently spent a week ‘digital detoxing’ where I left the phone outside of our bedroom overnight, Meg ended up in the emergency department at 3am, unable to reach me, and the truth is, I’m a little bit scarred from that.

I know that it’s unlikely that the same thing is going to happen again any time soon but at regular intervals during my day, my brain reminds me, “you need to check your phone.”

For me, social media isn’t the issue — it’s the constant sense that I need to be vigilant about responding to my kids, my friends and clients.

I know it’s irrational to think that anyone expects me to reply to a text message or an email within 30 minutes of writing, but that’s the way I’ve usually rolled. What I’ve discovered is that this habit of regular checking has rewired my brain so that now I find it a constant source of mild stress.

I’m aware that I’m not the only one at risk. You only need to jump on the train or stroll through the city to see that almost everyone is connected almost all of the time.

Some researchers claim that online and mobile phone addiction is likely to be one of the biggest sources of addiction of all time. The impact, they say, is higher levels of depression and anxiety, more FOMO and an impact on the quality of our sleep.

A 2014 Nielsen study found that over the course of a single decade, our online time has increased by a staggering 73 per cent. Not all of that is mobile phone use but even back in 2014 most Australians were spending an average of 6.7 hours online.

That’s almost a whole day of every week we’re not outside walking, hanging out with friends (without our devices) or pursuing creative activities that are better for our long-term wellbeing.

What can you do about it?

Start by making an honest assessment of how much time you spend on devices. Include the time you spend checking texts, email, watching video, listening to podcasts or doing anything on your phone, iPad or your computer.

Take note of where you spend the most time online. There are apps that will help you get a better sense if you’re not entirely sure.

Watch for these warning signs

  • Are you sleeping with your phone beside you?
  • Are you looking at your phone when you first wake up?
  • Are you posting on social media and checking for ‘likes’ five minutes later?
  • Are you bingeing on television episodes without taking breaks to do other things?
  • Do you feel the need to constantly multitask with a device at hand?
  • Do you feel that you need to respond to emails and text messages immediately?

10 steps to a digital detox

  1. Turn off all devices at a set time each day (say, from 7.30pm to 8.30am) and have one day each week without access.
  2. Put your phone in a cupboard or a special ‘detox box’ when you arrive home from work so it’s out of sight (and hopefully, out of mind).
  3. Keep your phone on silent or in your bag when you’re driving or spending time with friends.
  4. Let friends and colleagues know that you’re trying to spend more time offline and you may take a little longer to respond to their messages.
  5. Set regular times during your day to check email.
  6. Put your phone on flight mode for an hour or so each day while you work on important projects or tasks.
  7. If it’s permissible at your workplace, set up an email signature that tells people when you’ll be back online.
  8. Don’t have devices in your bedroom or at mealtimes at all.
  9. As much as possible, avoid technology when you’re spending quality time with your partner, friends or children.
  10. Get offline at least an hour before bedtime. Looking at screens reduces melatonin and can affect sleep quality.

I'm Kate James and the owner of Total Balance. I work with people who care about living purposeful, creative lives. My clients want to clarify their personal values, identify their strengths and learn about how they can make a difference in the world in their own unique way.

I run workshops and retreats in Melbourne, Bali and Byron Bay to give you the chance to escape the noise of everyday to discover what really matters to you.