This month, I conducted a full-blown digital detox. Personally, I think my desire to purge & de-clutter is related to prenatal nesting (I’m 38 weeks pregnant as I type this, and I started thinking about how I don’t want to get useless e-mail and Facebook notifications while in labor!), but I’m putting together this guide because I think it’s a useful practice for all of us who are feeling a bit overwhelmed by the constant PING of technology.
So whether you want to take a 2-month maternity leave like me, or you just want a weekend without constantly worrying about what you’re missing, here are some step-by-step ideas to declutter your digital world.
Digital Detox Your Inbox
All of my advice for digital detox in your e-mail inbox (awesome rhyme!) is based on using Gmail, even for your business e-mail … which is possible through a low-fee Google program (about $5/mo per user) called G Suite. (Use this referral link to save 20% off your first year of payments.)
BUT whether you’re using Gmail for personal use, business, or both, here’s my best advice: Set it up as Priority Inbox. Here’s how:
- In the upper right hand corner, go to the gear and click settings
- Go to the inbox tab, and at the very top, choose “Inbox > Priority Inbox”
- Set your #1 inbox section to “important and unread”
- Then set up the others however you like! (For my primary e-mail I have custom filters here, but you might want to display your Starred e-mails next, then your unread e-mails … play around to find what works for you!)
Now, change your settings on your computer & phone so that you only get notifications for the e-mails you want to see.
Streamlining Your E-mail Processes
I use two apps to make reviewing my e-mails a less stressful process:
- On my Mac, I use Mailplane because it keeps my e-mail & calendar out of my browser and in a separate app, so the notifications aren’t constantly bugging me. I also have separate tabs for business & personal Gmail accounts, so I don’t get confused with back & forth logging in & out. And the best part? It has a “do not disturb” function for all notifications.
- On my iPhone, I use Outlook. At first this felt totally strange — using a Microsoft app on an Apple device? blasphemy! — but it’s super easy to toggle between all my e-mail accounts, see my calendar at a glance (and open addresses on Google Maps instead of Apple Maps), and only get notifications on my “important and unread” filter.
Purge, baby, purge!
You know the best way to feel better about your backlog of unread e-mails? GET FEWER E-MAILS.
That’s right, it’s time to unsubscribe from e-mail updates you don’t read! The tool I use for this is unroll.me, which has the great benefit of “rolling” all the newsletter subscriptions into one daily e-mail that I can check all at once.
But (as Spiderman’s Uncle Ben says), “With great power comes great responsibility,” and you should be careful with this. Sometimes when you click “unsubscribe,” the service also marks the content as SPAM, which can impact delivery and open rates for that company in the future; so while I recommend consolidating your subscriptions with this service, I’d also suggest that you manually unsubscribe from the subscriptions that are no longer interesting. Make this a daily practice for about a week, and you’ll be closer to inbox zero in no time.
Fill Facebook with Baby Pictures and Traffic Complaints
As an online business owner, I’m in approximately 1,509,128* Facebook groups: some for designers to provide tech advice, some for moms trying to balance building a business & raising a family, some specifically for building referral networks for new leads, etc. They are incredibly useful tools for building relationships with group leaders & members, and part of my business development efforts include being incredibly useful in these groups.
However, they slowly, steadily took over my notifications, then my entire feed … and instead of getting on Facebook to connect with friends & family (which is supposedly what it’s built to do), I was always in business development mode.
So my detox here included three steps:
- Leave any groups that no longer serve me & my needs
- Click through to every group that I’m staying in, and decide two things: Do I want notifications about these posts? And, Do I want these posts to show up in my newsfeed?
- Change two things: notification settings & following settings
What’s the difference? Notification settings are whether or not Facebook announces to me that something is happening in a group — like when a friend posts, or a particular post is super-active. Following settings are whether these posts show up in my feed at all.
For some groups, I want to know when people I know post, but don’t need to see all the other activity happening (notification: friends, following: off). For other groups, I like to see all the chatter happening, but don’t necessarily need to be informed about it all (notification: off, following: on). I can’t recommend a hard-and-fast rule for you — it’s really about your relationship to the group topic & people.
I completed this time-consuming task about a week ago, and already I feel like I can breathe a little easier when scrolling through my feed or clicking on notification updates.
Make Your Phone Fun Again
You know that feeling when you’re out to dinner & your phone buzzes in your pocket & you totally lose track of the conversation because you’re wondering what it’s trying to tell you? And then you think, “Well, whatever it is can wait,” but you realize that it could be an urgent text that you can’t ignore? And then you excuse yourself to take a look, and it’s just a Twitter update … and you feel like kind of an asshole for checking it out, but on the other hand you’re thankful for the re-tweet?
Yeah, I get that. And I found that while there was certainly a thrill of feeling included & popular when those buzzes came, they also left me feeling distracted and rude.
So I advise you: Turn off non-urgent notifications. Seriously. You may feel like you need to know every time you get an e-mail or you’ll miss important information.
I assure you: You’ll be ok. The e-mail can wait an hour or two until you open the app. Same with facebook posts, instagram likes, re-tweets, Amazon shipping updates, etc.
If you’re still feeling antsy about it, you can leave the “badges” on your notifications so you know how many emails/likes you’ll eventually see when you open the app … but honestly, you don’t need to read everything the moment it lands in your inbox.
There are a couple phone notifications I keep:
- Text messages – this is my primary mode of communication with most friends & family
- Paypal – I like the thrill and the “ka-ching” sound when I make unexpected money
- Accuweather – severe weather alerts, because there’s nothing worse than taking my dog for a walk and experiencing a downpour
Other than those, I make a conscious decision to check what’s going on in each media outlet. (I used to also have notifications for big stories from New York Times, but given the current state of politics they were just making me depressed so I turned those off too. Now I can make a deliberate choice to be disappointed in society as a whole. #kiddingnotkidding)