As a reader of Make Tech Easier, you are of course aware of how gloriously varied the new world of tech truly is. There are apps for almost everything, and if they don’t exist then the ability to make them is even easier to acquire than ever before.
There is a downside to the rise of mobile device-driven, omnipresent computing in that we can forget to unplug, to learn to do things manually rather than automate everything. This can lead over time to over-reliance on tech to fill every tiny gap of downtime we have between things we have to do. It can just degenerate into tech-assisted boredom phobia, and the creeping “Fear Of Missing Out” causes us to get stuck to our devices.
In this article we talk about how not to get stuck to your tech and how use it to make yourself a better person in your offline life. This is not giving up tech, that’s crazy talk; this is making sure you use your tech more effectively for good mental and physical health.
You’ll see it’s not about avoiding tech; it’s about taking sensible steps to keep our brains alive while we do it.
Start as you mean to go on
Rule number one is try to Keep Mornings Tech Free. You may use your phone as an infallible and accurate waking alarm, but this is the “thin end of the wedge.” If you have to pick up your phone to quiet an alarm, then you might see an alert or notification which drags you into Facebook or email before you’ve even woken up or gotten out of bed. The frontline of avoiding sticky tech is to guard your mornings.
Consider getting a nice non-ticking electronic alarm clock and use that to wake up. Try to put off checking your messages and other things till you’ve taken care of yourself, eaten, drunk some water and gotten dressed. This is a good habit to get into, as Tim Ferriss says “email is the mind killer.” He also espouses the idea of only checking email twice a day, at 12 noon and at 6pm. Rarely is anything so urgent that it needs your instant attention unless you are a doctor who is on call. Few of us are on call in that sense, but we check our messages more often than people who ARE.
While we are on the subject of screen time and sleep, make sure you also Keep Bed Time Tech Free. Shining the bright light of your phone or pad screen into your eyes will upset your sleep patterns. If you need entertainment at bedtime, listen to soft music or read a book which are both potent sleep inducers. And also when you do sleep, do so in total darkness as this kicks off the sleep cycle in your brain. You can wear an airline-style sleep mask to assist this process.
You can also use tech to relax anytime – services like Brain.fm and other meditation apps which play soothing strobed music are very effective at relaxing tired and busy brains for sleep or focus.
Always ask yourself is what you are using a tool or a toy? It is something that enables you to make something or is it an end in itself? Games are an obvious end in themselves but a great one and a fabulous pastime unavailable to previous generations. The quality and scope of gaming in the 21st Century is staggering. It’s also, however, massively addictive and can suck time away from you having any kind of a life if you are not very careful.
The secret to good mental and physical hygiene in regard to games is really simple. Timing. That is to say use games with a timer running.
It’s perfectly okay to play games whenever you want, for two hours in the evening. Where the problems start to happen is that it’s very absorbing, and you can easily burn six hours straight if you have nowhere better to be.
Gaming is great, but like all good things (alcohol and TV for example) it starts to be bad for you if you do it to excess for unbroken periods of time. The hack to make game time work for rather than to you is to break the time up. Take a short break every thirty mins and walk about. Set timers for breaks but also for the overall session. The more strict you can be about this, the more you will feel in control.
This discipline has two benefits:
- You get better at the games.
- You don’t suffer any long-term ill effects from gaming.
It’s a win-win.
Seriously, it’s true. Setting timers on your phone for gaming and sticking to it is a very smart strategy. Games can be paused. You can stretch your legs, consume food and drink, talk to people, and do whatever you want. But most importantly you also rest your brain and your muscle memory to make it stronger and more permanent.
Studies have shown (most recently in the book “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle) that competence in any learned skill improves after intense but relatively short practise followed by breaks to allow your brain to process and hard code the skills you’ve learned into your brain.
Make Something Every Day
This is extra credit for real tech health ninjas. It’s easy to just consume, buy apps, order online, look at videos, read Facebook posts, read blogs, watch TV shows, etc. So another rule you should try to observe is this: try to produce as well as consume. Make something every day, even if it’s just a meal.
This means that as well as watching videos, you should make them. Use your tech as a tool and not a toy; toys are pastimes, tools make stuff. Also make sure it’s something of your own; don’t just cut and paste someone else’s creations. Start from scratch. Music, videos, writing, all kinds of art can be made with tech, so it’s not abstaining from tech, it’s using it for its intended purpose and not just another broadcast medium like TV and radio.
Make some art, make a table, paint a wall, stuff a cushion, make Dungeons and Dragons figures … anything. You can use tech to find out how to do these things, but once you learn, put the tech down and use your hands to create something.
Consider a Tech sabbath
Now on to the shaolin monk level. Something that a lot of very bold thinkers, including creators of The Sabbath Manifesto, believe in is the concept of a tech sabbath. Borrowing an idea from religious thought, it’s a day when you unplug, are not instantly obtainable digitally and cut off all info coming in to your space.
You cut out the noise and unplug from the digital realm. Basically you intentionally turn one day of your week into something resembling the 1970s, where if you want to contact someone you either have to call them on a landline or you have to walk over to their house.
Why would any sane person do this? To reconnect with your own brain.
Subjecting yourself to constant input means stress, boredom, phobia and frankly there’s no space left in your brain for output. If you ever want to make anything you’ll need some ideas. Ideas don’t thrive in a sea of input from other people’s ideas.
Add manual entertainment to your week, board and card games are a boom industry, bizarrely now more than ever, and many fantastic games exist which are social and powered by just plastic, paper and card and the human brain. It can’t hurt to try.
We hope you have enjoyed this special article, and yes we totally get the irony of telling you to unplug in an article on the Internet. Nobody said unplugging was going to be easy.
But when you come back after your unplugged exploits, refreshed and alert, please leave us a comment below and let us know how you got on. See you next time!