The simplicity of the process belies how difficult it can actually be. Newport has guided more than 600 people through this digital declutter and says many people fail to change their screen habits largely because of a few common pitfalls.
“One reason some failed was this notion of a digital detox,” says Newport. “They thought of it as just taking a brief break from technology before going right back to the same behaviors that led them to want a break in the first place. Obviously, people who thought of the declutter this way did not see much lasting change.”
People who shorten the break also struggled.
“Taking a whole month actually has a detoxifying effect. It takes a few weeks for you to no longer feel the strong compulsion to pull out your phone and tap on things. You have to give yourself time to actually get out of the habit of constantly interacting with the screen,” says Newport.
The 30-day break also gives you time to discover how you want to fill the minutes you used to give to the screen.
“You really have to be in touch with how you want to be spending your time otherwise you won’t know which digital tools to add back in and for what purpose,” says Newport. “If you avoid the self-reflection and the experimentation of activities, if you don’t try to find ways to fill your time pretty aggressively to see what sticks and what doesn’t, you won’t have a clear understanding at the end of the 30 days of what you want.”
And finally, he says people grapple with deciding what apps and other technologies to allow back into their lives.
‘It’s the trickiest part,” says Newport. “But the key question to ask isn’t ‘Is this app or tool useful?’ but ‘Is it the best way to use technology to support this thing I value?’. That superlative is crucial because every technology out there has a benefit, has some reason why you might want to use it. It’s a really hard question and it’s difficult to get right at first, so I always tell people do the best you can and just continue to think critically about it.”
If you’re worried about FOMO when you disconnect, Newport says to remind yourself of what you’re gaining.
“This notion that there might be something I don’t even know about yet that might be a little bit valuable to me that I could miss out on if I’m not constantly connected, ironically, leads to us losing a lot of value in our lives,” says Newport. “It is almost always better to take your limited time and energy and invest it heavily into a small number of things that you know for sure bring you great satisfaction.”
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