Illustration for post on tips for a digital detox
Illustration by Justin Tran

Work Culture

It’s not you, it’s your device—how to take a break from tech


Published on January 23, 2018

You work up your courage, take a deep a breath, and say it: “I think I’m losing myself in this relationship.”

Your smartphone stares back blankly. You forge ahead with your list of concerns: losing touch with your goals and passions, sacrificing sleep and other basic needs, no longer feeling fully in control of your life. “I do not understand the question,” responds your virtual assistant. But the answer is already clear: It’s time you and your tech took a much-needed break.

You’re not alone in feeling like your love affair with devices has soured. According to a recent survey on stress, 65% of Americans feel taking a break from technology is important for their mental health—a belief backed by studies linking compulsive internet use to anxiety and depression.

Even if your devices aren’t making you unhappy, their distractions sap time and energy away from the work and people that matter. A digital detox—a temporary period without electronic devices—allows you to step away from our always-on culture and rethink your relationship with tech. Consider it a way to carve out a calm space, one where you can objectively reflect on which digital connections are meaningful—and which are mindless. Ready to give it a shot? Here are five steps to making your digital detox a success:

1. Share your plan to unplug

Worried that your willpower will waver once you start craving cat videos? Make your intention to go tech-free public and harness the power of accountability. According to a study on goal achievement, participants who shared their goals had a 70% success rate, versus only 35% for those who kept their goals private. The more specific your plan, the better: Instead of vague promises to “avoid the evil internet,” get clear on exactly how long your detox will last and which devices and activities are verboten. Inviting friends and family to join your digital fast will only increase your chances of resisting the screen’s siren song.

Just like training for a marathon, having a detox partner or tech-free teammates gives you a chance to commiserate over challenges and celebrate successes, ideally face-to-face. Such camaraderie provides the momentum needed to complete your detox—and sets up an ongoing support network that can help prevent a relapse.

2. Rethink your surroundings

One of the most enjoyable ways to make a detox successful: Pair it with a much-needed getaway. Whether it’s a remote eco-lodge or a mountain cabin, a complete change of scenery takes you out of your device-reliant routine and helps short-circuit compulsive impulses. Take your escape a step further by signing up for a retreat that’s tailor-made for unplugging.

Look for off-the-grid getaways such as Camp Grounded, which bills itself as a device-free “ summer camp for adults,” or Time to Log Off, which offers digital detox retreats centered around yoga and mindfulness. Hotels and resorts are also joining the tech-free trend, offering digital detox packages, encouraging guests to hand over devices, even equipping rooms with WiFi–proof walls.

Even if you can’t swing a far-flung escape, spending time outdoors is an easy, inexpensive way to switch up your surroundings. Whether you’re full-on forest bathing or just perched on a park bench, Mother Nature’s slower rhythms act like a balm for brains overtaxed by multi-tasking. For creative types, the benefits can be big. One study of nature and creativity found that backpackers who spent four tech-free days immersed in nature increased their creative problem-solving abilities by 50%.

Keep your creative energy flowing with Dropbox

3. Get physical

Feel like your body is just a vehicle for moving your brain between devices? Consider your detox a chance to step outside your virtual world and reestablish your mind-body connection. Whether it’s salsa dancing, rock climbing, or a friendly game of bubble soccer, physical activity has been proven to benefit areas of the brain responsible for memory, problem-solving, and planning.

Studies show that even short walks increase creative output by 60%. Re-engaging your five senses can also spark new ways of thinking—an idea that has inspired multisensory office designs at companies from Google to Airbnb. Try it out during your detox: Put on stirring music, sink your fingers into wet clay, or taste-test a new recipe. You may be surprised to find that novel sensory input sparks fresh ideas and unexpected solutions to stubborn problems.

4. Make space for nothing

When was the last time you sat completely still? Or experienced boredom for longer than a second? One of the defining features of our tech-addicted existence is constant activity—and it comes with a price. Without periods of silence, stillness, or solitude, we simply can’t hear our internal voice. We drown out our own unique ideas and insights—and then struggle to add something original to the conversation. During your detox, resist the temptation to fill the vacuum left by tech with other busywork.

Instead, set aside blocks of unscripted time to follow your thoughts and serendipitously make connections. If staring up at cloud formations for an hour feels uncomfortably unproductive, know that daydreaming has been linked to innovative thinking. Or use your down time for focused meditation, which improves mindfulness—an essential tool for perceiving the ways your behavior around tech may be holding you back.

5. Stick the landing

Once you’ve reconnected with your pre-internet self—that grounded, well-rounded human who can thrive without constant external validation—why go back to business as usual? Take the wisdom and perspective you’ve gained from your detox and use it to rewrite your tech relationship on your own terms. Like someone identifying allergens after an elimination diet, slowly reintroduce digital tools one by one.

Ask yourself: Is this important and essential? Does it promote meaningful, sustaining work or does it distract and drain? Don’t be afraid to draw firm boundaries and unfriend those old apps and activities that left you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. After all, this your new tech relationship. Why not make it one you’ll love?

Put your creative energy to work, with Dropbox
Put your creative energy to work, with Dropbox