This past July, I challenged myself to put all my devices away at 8pm every night for 31 days. During the challenge, I committed to finish reading the Book of Negroes, over 400-pages of pure literary genius, develop healthy sleep habits, and cultivate new offline hobbies.
I am happy to report that I finished the book in less than two weeks, and I noticed significant improvement in my sleep quality. Unfortunately, cultivating new offline habits didn’t come to fruition.
Still, the lessons from putting my devices away at a designated time every night have been immensely rewarding. I learned so much more than I anticipated with this challenge.
When the challenge began, I was only a few days into my 14-day quarantine after returning to Canada from visiting my husband in the states. Aware of the difficulties of staying inside for 14 consecutive days, I committed to structuring my days with strict routine to avoid slipping into despair. The 31-day challenge was the perfect addition to my days, as it gave me something to look forward to, focus on and commit to every day.
Almost every night in quarantine, I set an alarm for 7:45pm and turned all my devices off and put them away out of reach before 8pm. On Tuesday, July 14th, I returned back to work. Since I work until 10:30pm, the challenge became… challenging.
As evident by the picture above, there were almost as many days I failed at the challenge as there were days I accomplished it. Yet, I have learned so much about my relationship with my devices from committing to the challenge for a month.
Below are the four major lessons from my 31-day challenge putting my devices away at 8pm.
1. Putting my devices away allows me to engage in richer and deeper connections.
The first night of the challenge, I was feeling restless and looking for something to do when I randomly picked up the family photo albums and started flipping through. That simple act would lead to a rich conversation with my family about our family story for a few of hours.
Usually, we hang out together with everyone lost in their own devices and online activities. There’s the occasional conversation but it’s shallow and short before we return back to our online worlds.
I do believe the fact that I took the initiative to start the initial conversation made everyone interested in telling stories. There were a few more nights afterwards where we had similar conversations.
The next night, again out of restlessness and boredom, I proposed to have a movie night, another rare occasion for my family. With my brother, niece and nephew, we watched, Grown Ups, Grown Ups 2, 13 Going on 30, Clueless, Freak Friday, and Are We There Yet?
Watching movies together is a communal activity. We talked about the storyline, laughed together, and created a common experience of watching those movies together.
I put this at the first takeaway because it is my most favourite outcome from the challenge.
After the challenge ended, I continued putting my devices away some nights. One of those night, my dad and I had a lengthy conversation about his childhood back in Ethiopia. I was in awe at his rich history, and it was so much better than anything I could have read, watched, or otherwise on the Internet.
TLDR: When our devices and the internet aren’t constantly capturing our attention, it allows us to connect deeper with those around us.
2. Perfection is the enemy of progress. Adapt to challenges and remain consistent.
When I returned back to work, I naively assumed the challenge will continue uninterrupted. After all, I reasoned with myself, I’m enjoying putting all my devices away and I only bring my phone to work anyway, so surely it must be easier to put it away.
I was very wrong.
When the alarm would go off to remind me to put my phone away, I would turn it off and go right back to work. Distracted, I would forget about the challenge and habitually pick up my phone, unlock it, and check random apps before remembering. Discouraged by these incidents, I would go on my devices throughout the night. Some nights, I was up for hours online.
For almost a week, I went through this same routine, until one day I realized perfection is the enemy of progress. Just because I went on my phone out of habit doesn’t have to mean I can completely abandon the challenge and spend hours on my devices.
I adapted the rules of the challenge accordingly.
Since putting my phone away completely didn’t fit my work schedule, habitually checking my phone didn’t count as failure anymore, and an excuse to go on my laptop or tablet after work.
Besides, I have killed my phone so there wasn’t anything entertaining on it to grant abandoning the challenge all together for the night. And, if I needed to use my phone for something important, I used it. If I saw my dad has texted me asking if I was working late and needed a ride, I replied.
TLDR: Adapt the rules to fit personal needs and lifestyle, rather than feeling discouraged by imperfections. Focus more on cultivating healthy digital habits, rather than allowing imperfection to derail progress.
3. Willpower is for losers. Turn off devices for ultimate control over your devices.
One day, something magical happened.
I was at work as my alarm went off at 7:45pm to remind me of the challenge, and I decided to turn my phone off. Once my phone was off, I would tap on it out of habit but the screen remained dark.
Turning my phone off meant, 1) I wouldn’t go on it out of habit, and 2) it reminded of the challenge. For most of the remaining days of the challenge, I used this trick to avoid going on my go phone while at work and on my way home.
Instead, I would read a book for commute home. I read most of Pep Talks for Writers on my commute. Once I finished it, I started on I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, which has been my favourite commute companion, even after the challenge ended.
TLDR: Willpower isn’t reliable. It’s much better to create the right environment, structure, and routine to support the habit we want to implement in our life.
(MUST) WATCH: Willpower is for Losers
4. Offline activities are much more enjoyable, once the initial discomfort of digital detox is over.
More than a week after the challenge, I still find myself gravitating towards offline activities.
I reach for a book before my phone.
When I get home from work, I find myself doing the dishes or preparing lunch for the following day, instead of going on my iPad.
I talk to my parents more.
These offline activities, even the mundane ones, are much more rewarding than time spent online.
In the beginning, there’s always the itch to go online. For most of us, we have become used to the instant dopamine rush online activities provide. In comparison, offline activities feel tedious. I mean, what’s the fun in doing the dishes? At least, on social media, there’s always the possibility of coming across the cutest cat video, or the funniest tweet.
Yet, the rewards from offline activities are long-lasting. When I do the dishes, there’s gratitude received from my family, it’s easier to prepare food when there are no dishes piled in the sink, and cleanliness is next to godliness, periodtttttt.
TLDR: Once we get through the initial discomfort of unplugging and detoxing from constant digital consumption, we create the mental space and habit to enjoy slower activities.
All in all, this 31-day challenge was exceptionally rewarding.
In the beginning, I was simply focused on putting a big fat X day each day, and not breaking the chain. However, I’ve learned just as much, if not more, from the days I failed than from the days I managed to put my devices away at 8pm.
The lessons from challenge continue to enrich my daily life.
Letting go the need for perfection, and committing to creating healthier relationship with my devices each day has been a life changing realization. Instead of feeling defeated because I stayed up until 3am on my phone the night before, I now try to focus on what I can do differently today not to make it a habit.
Since the challenge ended, I’ve been putting my devices away most night. I mostly read on my commute. I rarely go on my iPad or laptop after work.
More importantly, I find myself looking for offline activities to do, wether productive or mundane, before I even think about going online.
Until next time… 🙂