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Digital Detox: How to Break Your Bad Tech Habits

We live in a constantly connected world. From our laptops and smartphones to smartwatches and smart TVs, it seems like an Internet-connected something is always within arm’s reach — or, in some cases, literally on our arms.

And while easy access to data has become one of the great conveniences of modern life, it can also be a burden. Whether it’s Facebook status updates, push alerts from Twitter or a constantly chirping news feed, the incessant stream of information can sometimes be too much. If you find that a fear of missing out (otherwise known as FOMO) is making you miss out on more important things — whether it’s work or a real, live person who needs some real-world face time — perhaps it’s time for a little digital detox.

Here are some suggestions for doing just that.

Erase your muscle memory

Muscle memory plays a big part in our digital lives. One of the worst of these habits is repetitively launching the same app every time we unlock our smartphones — even if that’s not why we woke up our device in the first place.

Hide your apps.

To shake up your routine, move your most-used applications to another home screen — or, better yet, to a folder on a screen you hardly ever use. Making yourself more conscious of the apps you’re launching may make you pause to consider whether you really need to check Twitter for a third time this hour. 

Turn off alerts

Push alerts, by their very nature, are designed to pull you back to an application that has something new for you. But all too often, following an email alert results in spending the next fifteen minutes (or more) scanning your inbox when you don’t really need to. Turning off push alerts for particularly pestering apps will eliminate these time sucks.

Turn off notifications in iOS.

iOS users can disable alerts by launching the Settings app, then tapping on Notifications, followed by the app’s name. The process for Android users varies depending on device and operating system but generally, you can adjust your notification settings in Settings by tapping Sound & Notification, followed by App Notifications.

Schedule your usage

It might sound silly, I know, but sometimes you need to make some rules about when you can and check your phone (or laptop, or tablet). What you once did out of habit, boredom, or FOMO can quickly turn into something you do only occasionally — and you’ll be better off because of it.

For example, instead of reaching for your phone as soon as your alarm goes off in the morning, you could make yourself wait until after you’ve had breakfast to check your email or Facebook. In my case, I made it a rule to not check Slack — where the bulk of my work communication occurs — until I get to my office. I can’t tell you how much better that’s made my mornings.

Android’s app usage tracker.

Another way to cut back is to ration your usage, allowing yourself to use a given app a set number of times per day or for a set period of time. Unfortunately, iOS doesn’t allow one app to monitor the time you spend in others. The second best solution is to use an app like Moment to monitor the number of times you’ve picked up your phone and actively used it; it can also send you an alert when you hit a predetermined amount of usage time. On Android, App Usage Tracker will show you just how much time you’ve spent on your phone in a given day. 

As a last resort, uninstall

If you find yourself simply unable to stop obsessively checking your phone for a particular stream of data, you could always uninstall the associated app. It’s an extreme step, but depending on how much you’re struggling with cutting back your usage, it may be the only solution. After deleting the app, you’d be able to check email, Pinterest, or whatever from your computer. 

Extreme measures.

If you’re using an iOS device, tap and hold the app’s icon until it starts wiggling. Then tap on the X in the corner and confirm you want to delete it. Android users can long-press on an app icon in the app drawer and drag it to the Uninstall option at the top of the screen.

Old habits die hard

Trying to change any habit isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s far too easy to get hooked on the apps we’ve grown to rely on for connection to our family, friends, and complete strangers. But if you do decide to take one or more of the steps suggested above, It’s important to keep a few things in mind.

First, the break doesn’t have to be permanent. Taking a Face-cation for a week could be all you need. If nothing else, the brief reprieve could be refreshing.

Second, it can help to have something nondigital to distract you. You might consider taking up a hobby that doesn’t involve technology: Take a trip to the gym. Go on a vacation — and take your digital camera instead of your phone.

Lastly, if you do end up making a permanent change to your routine, remember that it’ll get easier over time. And if you do feel anxiety about giving up your habit, that could just be an indication that giving it up was the right thing to do.