Learning to Unplug

Learning to Unplug | Oak Haven Inc

Being successful at unplugging doesn’t mean you have to give up your phone, cancel your cable, grow a hipster beard, become a mountain dwelling hermit, and get yourself put on various government “watch lists.” Unplugging is less about detachment and more about accepting a mindset of digital awareness. 

Translation: become aware of how much you turn to digital and technological media to fill the gaps in your day.

I get a few reactions when I mention Project Unplug:

1.     Curiosity – Those who are fully aware of their need to spend less time in a digital world and more time in a mindful present. They’re not quite sure how to accomplish this task.

2.     Confusion – People who think the project is about complete and total separation from digital devices. They wonder why I’m using social channels to publish my challenges and activities.

3.     Disdain – There are always a few people who immediately search for ways to cheat the challenges, break the rules, or simply refuse to play along. These tips are for those people.

Project Unplug is not for everyone. But taking a few moments to micro unplug might be exactly what you’re looking for to make your day a little better and to become more mindful of the times when you turn to digital media to fill empty time and space. Like sitting next to an awkward first date at dinner, when the couple clearly met on Match and they don’t know that to do when they’re face-to-face.

I’ve compiled a short list of activities to give you an hour in an average day that is not connected to the internet or digital devices in some way. You’ll find this is quite easy.

1. Unplugged & Screens Down Meetings (30 – 60+ Minutes)

Leave your phone at your desk when you go to meetings. Grab a pen and paper to take notes. You will find yourself much more involved in the discussion and far less distracted by what’s going on in your inbox (or other social distractions). If everyone follows this simple rule you’ll actually experience what mythology experts call: a productive meeting.

If you must bring your devices with you, place them screens down in front of you – free from vibrating pockets. If everyone places their phone and laptops on the table, screens down, the pressure to be the first person to break the rule and look is reduced. At Unplug Project we developed a few creative tools to help reduce phone vibration, while still looking hip and stylish. The PhoneBed Anti-Vibration System started off as a silly idea to help protect our phones from being scratched, but ended up saving our co-workers from our vibrating alerts. They make a great gift for your desk mates.

2. Respond to Emails in Person (10+ Minutes)

How many times have you gotten an email from someone who is within “indoor voice” range? Probably more than we would all like to admit. Every once in a while I do something crazy, I get up an WALK over to a person’s desk and I either answer their email in person, or knock something off the ol’ “I need to talk to this person” list.

If you work in a remote office or it’s impractical to “walk reply,” I might suggest you use another device that’s likely near your computer: the phone. It’s amazing what a short phone call will help to do. The human voice has a wonderful way of expressing emotion – something email has never been very good at.

3. West Wing Walking Meetings (20+ Minutes)

If you’ve never watched West Wing, I highly recommend it. One of the key elements of the show were a series of hallway walking shots where a lot of activity took place. These walking meetings serve as a good model to capture the attention of busy executives who are constantly stuck in meetings. Since walking while fiddling with your phone is potentially dangerous, this gives everyone involved a chance to stay focused on the topic at hand.

Have something that takes longer than a 5-minute walk? Schedule a trip someplace that allows you to talk one-on-one, but not too far that it feels like a field trip.

4. Meals Without Phones (30+ Minutes)

At Bolin, we have a team breakfast every Wednesday morning. It gives us all an opportunity to connect on a more social level. Plus … free food. What I like most about this time is that it happens early in the day before our busy schedules drop us into digital triage mode of emails and social platforms. This breakfast time creates a nice buffer in the middle of the week to ensure we’re all connecting with each other as people first, co-workers second. This concept could (and should) be extended to other meals.

Rather than eating at our desks looking at screens, we should all spend this time looking at each other, sharing stories, and having real conversations. Even if those talks are about work, it’s healthy to spend this time without the need to click “reply.”

5. 10 Minutes Every Hour (10 min x 8 Hours = 80 minutes)

My Fitbit reminds me every hour that I need to stand up and walk around. I don’t always pay attention to her, but maybe I should use these alerts as a reminder to unplug or digitally detach for 10 minutes every hour. Take this time to write notes, read print-outs, or otherwise rest our eyes from our screens.

6. Commute Unplugged (15-20 minutes each way)

Driving while texting, emailing, reading, or watching funny cat videos is dangerous. Put your phone in the back seat and just enjoy the drive. Listen to a book on tape, calming music, or just listen to the sound of the road as you center yourself for the beginning or ending of the day.

I purposefully drive home via a series of roads that take me around the beautiful lakes of Minneapolis. It’s 20 minutes, no matter what time of the year. I could take a highway and save a few minutes (or waste an extra hour depending on the day), but I find the unplugged commute centers me and allows me to decompress and be ready for work … or home at the end of the day.

Micro Unplugging doesn’t need to be that hard. You can use one or all of the above tips and it will restore a little more balance into your connected day.

Have tips you want us to include in the list? What other tips, tricks, and activities do you use to help maintain mental balance and digital mindfulness?

By Michael Kraabel

Project UnplugFounder – Unplug is about showingthe role of digital media and the impact it has on social norms and real world relationships. 

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