Lessons From The Unplugged – Mindlessness, Focus, And Why What Matters More Than When

My Sundays Unplugged experiments have enlightened me no end.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve absorbed is that when I unplug is not so important. Staying offline a whole day – or indeed the whole weekend – just for the sake of it, doesn’t offer unlimited benefits with no downsides.

Far more influential is what I unplug from.

For example, spending an hour online reading blogs I love is not time wasted.

When it’s just words especially, the act is little different from reading a paper book. And both give me far more reward and nourishment than watching TV, or skimming absent-mindedly through social media.

Conversely, unplugging entirely from the internet for a couple of days, but then spending some of that time doing mindless activities, also rails against the original spirit and purpose of this experiment.

In addition, getting overly obsessed with the discipline of being unplugged – sticking rigidly to specific hours or periods of time – can be just as bad as over indulging in unnecessary online activities.

In the much same way that someone who takes minimalism to extremes and continually obsesses over counting how few items they have, appears caught in a strikingly similar cycle of behaviour on one level to someone who constantly hoards, unable to let go of any possessions.

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To help me further in continuing to make more intelligent choices about what I use the internet for, rather than purely when I use it (and when I unplug), I’ve also been experimenting with an app on my phone called Quality Time.

It’s pretty simple, and tracks which apps you use on your phone and how often you use each day and week. It also shows the frequency you use each app, and the frequency the phone is unlocked overall.

What I’ve been reassured by in the couple of months I’ve been using Quality Time, is whilst overall it’s been surprising how much I use my phone (typically just over an hour each day), very little is for what I’d describe as mindless online activity.

For example today, the total usage was 1h37m.

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Breaking it down, 21 minutes was using the calculator to work out some figures at work. Next was YouTube which I used for 20 minutes to watch a video on how to change a bike chain. A further 13 minutes was messaging my wife on What’s App. A bit more down the list was Keep, an app I use to capture notes and ideas for future 35hunter posts.

Chrome was used for 16 minutes, mostly to look up some tools for my bike (which I later bought) and GMail only 8 mins.

I’m happy enough with this usage, and whilst I also own and use an iPad and MacBook too, I’m far more focused with those, using them only for specific purposes and rarely for mindless browsing.

More concerning is the frequency I unlock my phone, which seems to be averaging about 50 times a day.

This just seems like a large number, and spread over 16 hours of awake time means I check my phone for some reason or other every 19 minutes. Which feels far too much like the addictive checking and chasing I’ve been trying to overcome, and a far cry from the original 24, then 48 hours unplugged experiments I began with.

So what’s next?

I feel like huge progress has been made in the last seven months or so, and I don’t feel like much of my online time at all now is aimless or being done without thought and purpose.

The “lessons” that seem to stand out most so far are –

– Restricting my use of a device just for the sake of it, and to meet some arbitrary timeframe, causes its own frustrations. I’m not doing this anymore.

– My phone, iPad and MacBook are fantastically useful devices that for the most part I use for reading, writing, and meaningful communication.

– I use my phone for a range of non-online functions too that I enjoy and find very useful, from something as simple as the calculator, to messaging, my fitness tracking, listening to music, taking and editing photos, and making notes. None of these have any downsides.

– My phone has vibrate alerts for the more important stuff, like WhatsApp messages from my wife, so I don’t need to be checking it so often, just in case. I can set vibrate/flash notifications for anything I want, and mute everything else.

– The biggest timesuck I know is eBay, whether for cameras or bikes. Sometimes this is very useful for research and learning. The danger is when I’m swiping through mindlessly (that word again!) looking at stuff I don’t need and can’t afford, rather than spending this time enjoying what I already have.

– It’s all about making conscious, intelligent choices about using my devices for useful and focused activities that somehow enrich my life. And being aware of when I’m doing anything just for the sake of it, or without much thought or purpose.

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Overall I’m really happy with unplugging this year, and plan to continue to hone and experiment. 

Most of all, I hope to continue to stay more mindful in how and when I use my devices, which of course is a great exercise in all areas of our lives.

How do you feel about when and why you use your devices?

We’d love to hear your experiences below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what my photography and cycling life looks like right now.

11 thoughts on “Lessons From The Unplugged – Mindlessness, Focus, And Why What Matters More Than When”

  1. Dan, the only things I watch with my devices is making sure I don’t share more than one or two posts on FB each day and only scroll down about twenty posts on my feed to stay in touch with what friends and doing and things of interest. I also only do up to half a dozen comments on blogs and posts like I’m doing now. I can get hooked into commenting like I did in the CCS days when I had over a hundred comments a day coming into my inbox. Now it is far less which gives me much more time for my private study. My phone and camera use are minimal and not a problem. I’d actually like a bit more use of my camera if I am honest xoxo susanJOY

    1. Hi Susan, I think that’s very wise to limit your time. I also remember with CCS waking up some mornings to see triple figures of notifications in my inbox! It was an exciting time, but I reached a point where I accepted I couldn’t keep up with every reply to every thread I was following, and like you just checked the latest 20 or 30 say.

      These days I follow far less in the first place, so have no issues keeping abreast of things.

      I prefer this approach of reducing the number of sources that produce new content and then being able to view it all, rather than me having to sift through each day and decide what to read and what to ignore. The latest 20 might not be the most interesting 20.

  2. Hi Dan, Hope all is well, it’s been a while since I last posted infact it’s been a while since I’ve even “checked in” and read your postings, which leads me to say, I’ve just caught up on your postings and after catching up it seems sort of funny but I’ve enjoyed the “box set” it’s shown me how your postings tie together ….. in answer to your question…. well being honest I feel fine about the time I spend each day using my devices, ( phone, tablet )but I do religiously make sure it’s no longer than 2.5 hrs per day… which when typing feels like way too much, but considering checking mail, bit of browsing on ebay, plus YouTube, and the odd blog it soon adds up..
    One question I keep coming back to is this…. which I must say my dear old much loved 87 yrs young mum constantly goes on about is “what did these people do before the internet, facetime Skype, and twitter came about ???” Like many wise elderly people….. she has a point….. but for the life of me I can’t answer… how about you??
    BR Lynd

    1. BR Lynd, before laptops and mobile phones etc I watched way more TV and videos and spent more time on my needlecrafts, cooking, huge amounts of time letter writing to a large number of penfriends. I must admit as a librarian I love computers and mobile phones. I love how they network people and share knowledge and lots of good stuff. I don’t focus on the negative stuff with them but am still mindful of it xoxo susanJOY

        1. Dan, I still write hand written letters like I did when I was 8 years old with my first penfriends from a chewy wrapper!! I have a passion for letter writing by hand and receiving snail mail and there are still others who enjoy it. I think there will always be people who love snail mail. My postman says I get the most mail on his round xoxo susanJOY

    2. Very interesting points Lynd, glad to have you back.

      First, on the box set approach, this is actively encouraged these days on TV with the “On Demand” apps and systems, and the channels openly promote “binge watching” as an appealing way to consume TV.

      I have mixed feelings. I kind of miss the old feeling of watching a favourite TV serial, then having to wait a week to see the next episode, rather than it being there on demand, with no need to wait. Instant gratification quickly loses its appeal, for me.

      But I can see it is convenient if you find a new series you like to watch two or three or episodes at a time, when you have time, it’s easier to fit it into your schedule than you fit into a TV channel’s schedule.

      I’m just a bit uncomfortable with the “binge” labelling, and generally I associate this with something that becomes an unhealthy addiction, like binge drinking or eating or spending or gambling. I don’t think it’s particularly responsible for advertisers to use this kind of term to promote something.

      Everything in moderation I guess.

      There are certainly blogs I find then read two or three old posts in one sitting, not just one, and if it’s a blog I love, I’d certainly consider this time well spent, rather than mindlessly swiping through up to date content just for the sake of it.

      On the subject of what did anyone do before the internet, I do sometimes wonder!

      If I think back to when I was a younger adult, and before the internet was around, for each hobby I had, there’s been a surrounding set of activities too. For example when I first got into mountain biking when I was in my late teens, I would spend time riding the bike, time cleaning and tweaking and maintaining, and time reading magazines (Mountain Biking UK I read religiously from cover to cover each month!). I’ve always been into music, so there have been phases when I’ve listened to music, read about music via the NME, Q Magazine and so on, gone to gigs and concerts, and experimented with making my own. I didn’t need the internet for any of the aforementioned.

      This isn’t so dissimilar to how I am now, it’s just the internet offers far more direct and wider reaching and instantaneous options for the research and reading parts.

      As someone who doesn’t use Skype, Twitter, Facetime or anything like that (WhatsApp and email is about it!), I can’t really answer your mum’s questions. I guess the people who like to gossip on these platforms today used to have to actually meet up with people and do it in person 10 or 20 years ago!

  3. I’ve always been wary of technology, and social media in particular because it’s so easy to waste hours on these things without getting anything out of it; a bit like TV. I’m not a technophobe, but I see technology as a nice-to-have rather than – as marketing campaigns would want us to think – a must-have. I don’t connect to the internet at the weekend, and, ever since Facebook (the only social network I use other than my blog) caused issues on my phone, I don’t connect to Facebook on my phone either, so outside of when I have to be at my computer during the week, I am not connected and feel all the better for it. Keeping focussed on the here and now, and face-to-face interaction are better for us all.

    1. Well said Karine.

      I think the internet does off great options for communication with platforms like blogs, where people can come together and talk about common passions.

      But the whole social media circus – especially sharing stuff with, and reading the posts of, people you honestly couldn’t care less about, is a massive waste of time!

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