A Day in the Life: Digital Detox

05/20/2015 03:15 pm ET | Updated May 20, 2016

Thrive. It's a gorgeous, evocative word, conjuring powerful images of a life well lived.

But life is hard, and thriving is easier said than done. So when Arianna Huffington's "Thrive eCourse" came along, I signed up without hesitation. I'd already read the book, and the ideas within it resonated.

The course started a couple of weeks ago. In Week Two, the lessons focused on "Digital Detox." Without being told, most of us know what that is and why we need it. Digital addiction is prevalent in our society: The average person checks his or her phone 110 times a day. At the high end, people check their phones 900 times a day.

Nine hundred! That seems impossible. But we do it without even thinking.

In Week One we focused on meditation. While learning to meditate, our thoughts come so automatically that we might not even realize -- for seconds or even minutes -- that we've started thinking again.

The same holds true in accessing our digital worlds. I can have my passcode typed in and email open before I even realize I've reached for my phone.

So when Week Two: Digital Detox came around, I almost thought I wouldn't even try. I'm a writer. I'm self-employed. It would be impossible to really get away from the laptop and phone. Wouldn't it?

But we all know social media with its too-shiny veneer can become overwhelming. Recently, ESPN posted a powerful story about a teenager who took her life. The article highlights the fact that we all present edited versions of ourselves online -- and the fact that while we know that to be the case, we still get depressed on seeing how perfect everyone else's lives are. We compare our own messy, imperfect worlds to others' polished facades, and inevitably we come up short.

It's not good for our minds or souls.

So. Five days into the Digital Detox week, I decided to give it a try.

Thursday, 10:30 p.m.

I back up my 6-year-old computer and email myself multiple copies of my current writing work-in-progress. Every time I turn off my laptop, I'm afraid it won't turn on again.

I unplug the laptop, too, eliminating the familiar green charging glow. Normally, I go to sleep with an iTunes playlist on my laptop of meditations and nature sounds. I am not an easy sleeper. My mind whirls and twists. White noise helps.

The silence is deep and intense. I toss and turn.

I try unsuccessfully to stay off the phone, even though it's across the room on a bookshelf rather than next to my bed.

At 11:15 I receive a text, and I reply.

At 11:30 I send a tweet.

Somewhere around 1:30 a.m., I fall asleep.

Friday morning

I've decided not to turn on my computer until 10:30 a.m., 12 hours after I turned it off.

Without the option to check email, I'm at a bit of a loss of how to start my morning. I'd guess that 90 percent of my procrastination methods take place online. The other 10 percent probably takes the form of cleaning my house. I start cleaning my house.

Even so, I get to my workout more quickly than usual.

Friday, 10:30 a.m.

By the appointed power-on hour, I have four pages of scribbled notes waiting to be typed up. Do I always have this many thoughts this early in the morning? I almost don't want to turn on my laptop. I'm enjoying the peace. But there is work to be done.

Computer powered on, I dip into email. I have 54 new messages, mostly spam and newsletters. I delete them.

After almost getting sucked into the mindless surfing, I open my "work" programs and get to work. I keep my browser open for research purposes as I write, but I close out all email and social media programs. My fingers and mind itch to check to those sites, but I refrain. Mostly.

Friday, 1:00 p.m.

I leave the computer on, but shut the clamshell and put it aside. Without the distractions of social media and email, I've gotten more done in two hours than I sometimes do all day. With my gmail tab closed (and therefore no notifications coming in), I almost forget that there's email coming in. It can wait.

I use the extra time to instead cook up some healthy fish tacos with mango salsa.

Friday, 2:30 p.m.

While I'm back on the computer to do my work, I do more or less stay off social media for the rest of the afternoon.

Friday, 6 p.m.

I turn off the computer for the evening, after another backup.

Having no exciting Friday night plans, I end up spending the evening creating vision boards while binge-watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. (That is one catchy theme song!)


There are two sides to this.

On the one hand, avoiding the mindless checking of social media sites (and the subsequent surfing to sites unknown) freed me up to be really productive. I not only got a lot of writing done, but I also completed a couple of projects that had been hanging over my head for months.

On the other hand, I may have taken the digital detox to an unnecessary extreme. As a writer, much of what I do takes place on a computer, and not just the writing. For example, right now, as I foray into the new-to-me world of screenwriting, I'm constantly reading movie scripts. I could print all the scripts and read them offline, but that's a huge waste of resources. Reading them online is not mindless; it's a good way for me to learn my craft and advance my career. And, I enjoy it.

Furthermore, while there's nothing wrong with binge-watching in moderation (is it possible to binge-watch in moderation?), I think that in the end, too much TV is no better than too much social media. (Sorry, Mole Women.) And a person only needs so many vision boards.

What it comes down to is mindfulness and balance. Am I surfing the internet to learn, or am I surfing the internet to avoid something? Am I using social media as a way to connect, or is it making me anxious about my own life as I compare it to others'?

So what did I get out of my digital detox? After two nights trying to sleep without my sounds of nature iTunes track, I turned the computer back on. Much to my relief! On the other hand, the next day there was a moment where I didn't know where my phone was -- and I didn't bother searching until later.

Technology as mindful tool rather than mindless tether: To me that's the end goal in a life in which we are thriving.