The results of my online detox experiment and how it has affected my writing

I wrote recently getting a handle on online distractions that keep you from writing, and prior to that, about cutting back on the online distractions that were cluttering my head.

I’ve been highly interested in this topic because I could feel my life-energy being sapped by these distractions and it’s been really bothering me, despite the many changes I’ve already made. I do a good job of protecting my actual writing time from email and other online stuff, but the rest of my life? Not so much.

And it was mostly because of my phone. My computer use feels manageable. My TV consumption is minimal (though I have been watching lots of Prison Break and Breakout Kings as I’m prepping a sci-fi prison movie right now!). Having said that, I like being able to use my phone to read ebooks in the dark late at night without waking the baby (who sleeps in the same room) and being able to write on it when I want to.

But I don’t like feeling like I can’t be without it. Ever. YUCK.

(And honestly, the picture I’ve chosen to accompany this post keeps freaking me out — it seems entirely emblematic of how so many of us are viewing our world through the filter of a device… constantly.)

My email trap

It was email that was really my last “hook” — I rationalized that as a business owner, I need to stay on top of things and make sure nothing was falling through the cracks. But that notion kept me constantly checking to see if I had any new messages. 

And not only did I feel guilty for oh so frequently “checking” my phone when I was around my kids, I didn’t like the way my brain felt always cluttered by all the checking, even after I’d taken Facebook off my phone, turned off almost all the notifications in the lock screen and more. It was like being tied into other people’s energy and needs was keeping me on edge, in a hyper vigilant state of awareness and constant readiness. Again, YUCK. 

Finding the courage and support to make a change

So I decided to participate in Jessica’s Look Up two week online use “detox” program and see what shifts I could make.

Since my online Writer’s Circle program is similarly grounded in accountability, self-observation through journaling, and support through coaching and peer connection, I knew going in that her program would be just the ticket to get me focused on what I really wanted.

She had us work through her four-step process of first defining what we want, noticing what impulses were driving the behavior to check in online, accepting that those feelings and impulses (often discomfort) would not necessarily change but that we could learn new ways to deal with them, and finally choosing what we wanted instead. Then, every day, we answered simple journal prompts every morning to set our intentions for the day about our online use and how we wanted our days to go, and every evening, about how it went and what we learned.

I deleted Gmail from my phone

Initially I found myself sort of skirting the edges of changing my phone use, testing the water, seeing how it felt just to consider cutting back. (Which just shows how powerful an addiction it can be!)

Even before the program started, I installed the app called “Moment” so I could see how much time I was actually spending on my phone, and how many times I was picking it up. So in some ways it was good that I wasn’t changing anything initially, but just observing. And it was kind of scary. There was one day, prior to the program, where I picked up my phone FORTY-NINE times. 49!! It’s embarrassing even to put that in print.

On about Day 3 of the 14-day program I decided to take Gmail off my phone entirely. For good measure, I took off Chrome too, so my second-biggest, “let me just look that up real quick” excuse was gone too. I still have Safari there but since it wasn’t my go-to program it just doesn’t have the same attraction. While I was at it, I turned off every other kind of lock screen, pop up, and banner notification I could find on my phone (except iMessage and Reminders, which I do use) and on my computer.

It was so worth it.

I felt sort of jittery for about 24 to 48 hours, still on that automatic “must-check-now” auto-alert. It was mildly frightening to feel so much like Pavlov’s Dog. Again, YUCK. 

What changed for me

After that, everything got a lot more calm.

I found myself feeling much more present in my life and to my family.

My brain felt quieter, calmer, more alert.

I had more energy.

I started reading REAL BOOKS and putting my hands on REAL THINGS like baking food, drawing, collaging. I noticed that when I felt the urge to “check” I could make tea, or snuggle with my boys, or GO OUTSIDE and look up at the beautiful amazing sky that helps make life on this planet possible. 

I also found that I could still use my devices for certain things: Kindle, Netflix, the timer, the calculator, iMessages, writing, and other apps I love and find incredibly useful without it taking over my time and energy. My phone became a tool again, instead of a constant companion or savior or whatever it was actually doing for me. It’s been interesting to walk the line of finding what online use works for me and what doesn’t, at least for right now.

I found myself being crystal clear about times when I absolutely did NOT want to be consuming any online stuff at all and have had a few spans of totally unplugged time (something I used to do weekly) and LOVED it.

It’s started to feel kind of gross to be looking at my phone.

So I just don’t do it much anymore. It mostly stays in my office, on the charger, except when I need it when I’m out and want it for emergency phone calls, or if I need it for another purpose, like the calculator or timer. Again, it’s gone back to being a tool, and I like that.

I also found that the days have gotten So Much Longer! All those “little” checks and moments of time that were getting sucked into online use are suddenly mine again. My mind is clearer. My intentions are clearer each day. I feel more focused.

How my writing has changed

And as far as my writing goes, I have not noticed a huge change in my writing time, but I’m not surprised by that, since I’ve already been writing regularly and protecting my writing time well.

What I have noticed is that I feel readier to write when I sit down to do it. Now what swirls around in my brain when I’m out in the world is what I’m going to be writing about next, whether it’s a blog post, my current script, or the next big project that’s coming down the pipeline. It might sound like a small shift, but it’s huge. It feels like I’ve reclaimed my own territory again. And it’s such a relief.

What about you?

Are there ways your online use is hindering your time, life-energy, or writing focus whether it’s on your phone or computer or other device? Does anything I’ve shared here inspire you to make a change? I’d love to hear what you think.


Minding my own business (managing the distractions so I can focus on my life, my kids, and my writing)

In this über-distractified world we live in, minding our own business is becoming increasingly important.

I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the way I start my day in this regard.

Whose day is it, anyway?

If I get up and instantly tune in to what other people are doing, by turning on my phone and checking for email, texts, Skype messages, Facebook messages, app notifications and/or my Facebook news feed, timeline or notifications, my day starts off focused on other people’s business. (And, wow, when I put it all in a list like that it’s downright overwhelming. No wonder my brain feels cluttered.)

If I start my day this way, I spend the next 60 to 70 minutes — time when I want to be focused on my kids, getting my older boy to school and my baby boy settled for his nap — feeling distracted.

Things like this start twirling through my brain, even when I tell myself I’m just going to take a quick look at email to make sure nothing critical is happening that I need to take care of:

  • Sorting through all the details, step-by-step, for how to solve the latest technical problem du jour with my website upgrades.
  • Mentally composing replies to emails I’ve seen come in from clients, colleagues, and co-workers.
  • Tracking all the email reminders for the various school events and doctors appointments I just saw in my inbox.
  • Wondering about the cool article I saw from one of my favorite writers and when I’ll get to finish reading it.
  • Mulling over my thoughts and replies to various conversations and intellectual ideas my friends and colleagues post about. 

Getting hooked

The thing is, my brain LOVES problem-solving and answering questions. It’s truly one of my strengths. In fact, I get a little bored when I don’t have a problem to solve and sometimes create problems so that I have something to work on (I like to call them projects to make it sound better. :) ).

But it’s hard to shut my brain off. ANY problem will set it on overdrive, working to solve it, even if it’s not one that is particularly meaningful or important to me. (Even inane random things I see, like “The top 20 songs from the 80s your kids should know the lyrics to!” sets my brain to wondering… “Wow, what songs are they? Do I know those songs? Is it really important that my kids know those songs? Do I even like those songs?” Make it stop!)

And when I’m walking to school with a sweet seven-year-old boy who wants to tell me all about the monsters he’s coming up with for his latest comic book, I don’t want my brain in distracted-mode or even problem-solving mode, I want it in listening mode.

And when I get back to the house with the baby to nurse and settle for his nap, I want to focus on his angelic, beautiful face shining up at me. I don’t want to be distracted by the noise of other people’s business.

And when I get to my desk, once he’s asleep and I’m ready to write, I don’t want my brain cluttered with obligations and distractions that other people’s desires and requests — even their PRESENCE — creates for me. I want my brain in creative problem solving mode for MY work.

I want to be minding my own business.

But what about staying in touch?

All this said, I DO want to stay in touch with my friends and community. As an introverted, highly sensitive writer who works from home and has a child under age one, it’s lovely to have so many ways to keep in touch with what the people I genuinely care about are doing. And this includes all the neat writers I’m getting to know online and the people I work with through my Writer’s Circle and coaching work.

Which is ALSO part of minding my business, literally.


Obviously some of this is me working on my own ability to be present, calm, centered, and focused though things like exercise, mindfulness, etc.

But it’s also about the addictive nature of social media and the ever-present drive to consume information that so many of us are wrestling with right now.

I was fascinated that right after our newest son was born, I could not handle much input. I couldn’t talk on the phone for at least eight weeks after his birth — it was just too overstimulating. I also could not bear to have all the many pop-up notifications on my phone that I’d grown accustomed to over the years prior.

Think about WHY we’re doing it

I reached out to one of my go-to coaches for this, Jessica Michaelson, and asked for her input. She suggested I give some thought to what it provides for me personally, so that I could think of other ways to get those needs met. She said it often serves as a way for people to avoid uncomfortable feelings and to create short term positive feelings.

I definitely find myself reaching for my phone when I’m bored and looking for a “hit” of something “fun”. I also like seeing what other people are doing — but again, that pulls me out of my own world and into theirs (something not so great for an empathic person). I also get into trouble when I’m waiting for a response to something I’ve sent, like an email (this is particularly true when it’s about something I’m nervous about or has an emotional charge for me).

It’s not even so much that I get distracted by social media when I’ve planned to write; I’m fairly solid on writing when I say I’m going to write. It’s that it is taking up too much space in my brain. I want to feel clearer headed for myself and for my kids.

So I have been cutting back, and I feel so much calmer. I’m also thinking of going back to one technology free day per week, though I’ll have to negotiate that with my son since we’ve now limited his screen time to weekends only and those are my easiest days to unplug. :)

And here’s the thing. I actually love all the technology. As much as it can be overwhelming, I’m enough of a gadget geek to really enjoy using these tools. I just want to make sure I’m using them effectively and enjoying of the experience, rather than having them whittle away at my time and psyche.

Systematically eradicating the systems

Here’s what I’ve done on a technical front to help myself deal with all this:

  • Turned off all notifications on my phone except text alerts.

  • Turned off almost all badges on apps (those ones that show the little red numbers telling you there’s a message to lure you into looking at them).

  • Keep my phone in silent mode except when I’m expecting an important phone call or text. This is most of the time. I also avoid giving my phone numbers out as much as possible, except to close friends and co-workers.

  • Keep my phone face down while I’m writing so if anything does pop up I’m not distracted by it.

  • Deleted games from my iPad and iPhone that I have gotten obsessive about playing with (don’t even get me started talking about the games that my older son and I call “working games” — those are such a huge temptation to a problem-solver like me!).

  • Deleted the Facebook app on my phone, while keeping Facebook messenger.

  • Turned off banner and badge notifications on my Mac and set the notification center to “do not disturb”.

  • Installed the News Feed Eradicator extension for Chrome on my Mac. Now what I see when I go on Facebook is a lovely quote reminding me to be strong or focus on what’s most important to me, while still allowing me to engage with people through the wonderful Facebook groups I’m part of and to work on my Just Do The Writing page and my own timeline as I need to.

  • I use Isolator or Composition Mode in Scrivener to black out my screen so I’m only seeing what I’m supposed to be working on. (I’m liking Scrivener’s Composition Mode even better than Isolator since it blacks out EVERYTHING other than my writing.)

Replacing the habit with something positive

In addition to all the deleting I’m doing, I’ve made sure to have options on my iPhone and iPad that are interesting and meaningful to me, like reading books in my Kindle app or in Weekend Read (for Scripts and PDFs), or using Byword to write. (All of these have a “dark mode” that works great for reading or writing next to a sleep baby at night!) 

I’m subscribed to the blogs and people I want to be reading — so I don’t have to find them online.

I make a point to engage with people online in ways that are fulfilling, like through my Writer’s Circle, where we track our daily writing and share our writing successes and challenges.

These is perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle for me, because they are my replacements for the bad habits.

Now, when I find myself looking for that quick hit of “something interesting”, I ask myself what I’m REALLY looking for, and think about other ways to get it for myself.

In other words, I’m minding my own business.



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