12 Easy Ways to Unplug

What’s the first thing you do after waking up in the morning? How about when you’re waiting in line, relaxing on the couch or eating lunch at work?

In today’s tech-focused world, the answer probably involves picking up a device of some sort. According to Nielsen research, "American adults spend more than 11 hours per day watching, reading, listening to or simply interacting with media. That’s up from nine hours, 32 minutes just four years ago." While that includes television, they still spend nearly four hours per day alone on computers, tablets and smartphones.

Of course, some degree of technology is necessary and helpful. Smartphones, tablets and computers make it easier to communicate with others, look up information, complete essential tasks and seek out entertainment. Food tracking and fitness apps help us lead healthier lifestyles, while video chat keeps us connected with faraway loved ones.

But having a never-ending stream of media literally at our fingertips—and the constant stream of incoming texts, emails, social media notifications and perhaps even the occasional old-fashioned phone call—can sometimes backfire. Some experts believe too much technology use can hamper in-person communication, wreak havoc on our sleep cycles, foster unhealthy comparisons to others and reduce productivity through distractions, among other ill effects.

Research has shown that "unplugging" from technology can have big benefits, including a boost in cognitive function, a reduction of stress and the opportunity to connect with others. Whether it’s for an hour, a day or a week, doing a regular "tech detox" could go a long way toward improving your mental and emotional health.

And it’s easier than you might think.

12 Easy Ways to Unplug

  1. Don’t sleep with your phone next to your bed. This will prevent you from instinctively grabbing it first thing in the morning, or using it as a distraction if you happen to wake up in the middle of the night. If you must use it as your alarm, put it across the room. Better yet, use an old-school alarm clock.
  2. Always bring a book. Or a magazine or a newspaper—any non-electronic content that you can read when you’re stuck waiting somewhere or have a few minutes of downtime.
  3. Use an app to unplug. It might seem counterintuitive, but there are apps you can download that will block you from accessing your most addictive programs, such as social media, games and email. Many also track your screen time and send alerts when you’ve exceeded your pre-set limit.
  4. Silence your notifications. This may seem like a simple thing, but just the absence of all those beeping alerts will help you go for longer stretches of time without interacting with your devices.
  5. Go for a tech-free walk outdoors. Reconnecting with nature is one of the best ways to unplug and rejuvenate. Listen to the birds chirping, soak in the scenery and breathe in the fresh air.
  6. Leave your phone at home. It might feel strange at first, but try heading out without your phone if you’re running a quick errand, going to a movie or visiting a friend. Gradually increase your windows of phone-free time until you’re able to leave it behind for an entire day.
  7. Schedule check-in times. Instead of opening yourself up to communications around the clock, select certain times when you will check texts, emails and social media notifications (with the exception of emergencies, of course). For example, you might check those channels only at 10:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. 
  8. Designate a tech-free zone. Whether it’s your kitchen, bedroom or even your car, choose a space where technology is off-limits.
  9. Rediscover the art of handwriting. Instead of communicating via text or email, try leaving written notes for your family members, co-workers or neighbors now and then.
  10. Set a tech curfew. Instead of scrolling yourself to sleep, set a "bedtime" for your tech usage at least two hours before you turn in. This will also have the added benefit of decreasing blue-light exposure, which has been shown to promote more restful sleep.
  11. Start an "unplugged club." Change is always easier with the support of a group. Recruit some friends or co-workers to unplug with you on a set day or for a set time period.
  12. Find a healthier habit. If you find yourself reaching mindlessly for your phone or another device throughout the day, choose a substitute habit to replace it, such as listening to music, journaling, meditating or stretching.
While it’s not realistic to completely cut out technology, try spending even just a little time unplugged each day. By turning tech-free breaks into a habit, you will likely start to notice a greater sense of calm, focus, productivity and creativity in your life.