Self-Care Series: On Taking Time Unplugged / by Madeleine Riley

Thank you to JORD Watches for including me in the campaign and for gifting me this watch in exchange for my participation. Readers of TST can enter to win a $100 gift card to JORD; the giveaway concludes on April 15, after which one winner will receive a $100 gift card and all entrants will receive a 10% discount code!

As mentioned in my post about my bedtime routine, I'm continuing my self-care series today with some thoughts about taking time unplugged. Since selecting nourish as my word for 2018, I've been taking steps to create more margin in my daily life.

While social media can certainly be a positive force in our lives, it can also be utterly exhausting. I love the TST community, and all of the other bookish communities that I belong to on Instagram and Goodreads. I also adore the friends that I've made online and love that many of those connections have turned into real-life (outside the confines of bookish talk) friendships.

What I don't love is being tied to my phone -- or any device for that matter -- and I would hate for my phone to do anything but enhance my experience with technology. For the past few months, I've taken Sundays as my day unplugged. I've received a lot of questions about this ritual, so I thought I'd share the details here. I think it's probably more fair to call it a social media free day; I'm trying to move in the direction of removing all technology, but as you'll read below, I'm not yet in the practice of being 100% removed.

Like any new habit, it was really difficult to keep myself from automatically opening up Instagram for the first few weeks that I took time unplugged. I started to reflect on why that is, and in my personal experience, I think it's because a). I didn't want to miss out on anything and b). it's a way to fill white space in my day. But the purpose of taking time unplugged is to create and revel in that white space. As I continued to keep my Sundays tech-free, I found myself feeling more and more appreciative of that time.

A few weeks ago I went offline for a whole three days. It was wonderful. I found myself with so much more time to do extra tasks (for fun, not just my chores) and I found myself better able to focus on the present moment.

A few things I enjoy doing on days unplugged:

Picking out fresh flowers for the apartment.

Going for walks outside (or heading to the gym for a run).

Browsing a bookstore or the local library.


Catching up with friends over coffee.

Cooking or baking with my boyfriend.

Spending the whole day at the beach.

Doing a hands-on craft (I recently had a great time creating a spring wreath for our front door!)

A Few Frequently Asked Questions:

How do you keep yourself from picking up your phone?

The answer here is that I do sometimes use my phone still for things other than social media. But when it's in my hand, I'm using it for a specific purpose (like to access my grocery list), and when that purpose is served, I put it back in it's designated "unplugged" spot (on top of a cabinet in our dining room). Putting your phone out of reach is my number one tip for implementing time unplugged. 

When it comes to keeping off social media, I hide my social media app folder in its own screen on my phone (isolated from all other apps) and if I find myself scrolling over to it, I'll immediately lock the phone and put it down. I think opening social media apps is a muscle memory action for most of us. I've become more conscious of that even on days when I'm not unplugged -- I'll catch myself opening it automatically and ask myself what the purpose of that action is. Most of the time, it's just out of habit, which helps me to put it away. I've heard from others who practice social media free weekends that logging out of (or even deleting the apps) works too.

Does this bother others when you're unreachable?

Friends, family members, and colleagues are all very understanding of my boundaries around screen time on Sundays and in the evenings -- they'll send me texts or leave voicemails knowing that they won't necessarily be answered until the next morning. So far, it hasn't been a problem. (But I'll also say here: people won't respect boundaries unless you set them. Our loved ones aren't mind readers!)

Often, I'll put my phone on Do Not Disturb mode (which only allows for calls from "favorite" contacts to ring) in case of an emergency. (Because I am a worrier by nature.)

Don't you wear an Apple Watch? How does that factor into days unplugged?

I've recently traded my Apple Watch (which I think is a daily blessing for teachers and love to use for exercise tracking) for an analog watch on days unplugged, so that I can feel totally disconnected. When I recently joined the spring campaign for Jord Watches, I requested that my watch be engraved with a snippet of my favorite quote from Anne of Green Gables, whose idyllic lifestyle is a dream that I would love to one day emulate.

‘Dear Old World,’ she murmured, ‘you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.’
— Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

This quote encourages me to really appreciate life outside of my devices. I write it into my planner every week, and having it on my new watch is just another reminder to think like Anne Shirley. 

Does being unplugged mean you don't watch TV either? Or use your computer?

I use Saturdays to get my blog, DBC, and teaching things together so that I don't have to open my computer at all on Sundays. I think it's too easy to get distracted and end up working when my computer is open. I'm pretty strict about no computers for myself.

I don't watch much television in general, because my day-to-day is pretty packed. (On weekdays, we've taken to watching one episode of a show together before I head off for my nighttime routine). I'd rather spend that time outside on a walk or reading, but sometimes winter weather calls for lots of indoor time. I do think too that television can sometimes serve as a form of quality time, but I'm careful to keep it from becoming the only quality time we spend together. I'm not against a Sunday afternoon movie on a rainy day, but I try to choose other activities for us first. (We actually recently watched Thor Ragnarok together and we haven't stopped talking about it since. Highly recommended!)

I still wouldn't place myself outside the realm of modern-day screen addiction, but I do feel like I have a fair amount of self-control when it comes to technology now. Between my Sundays unplugged and my 7pm deadline for putting away my phone on weeknights, I'm better able to separate myself from the online world. I've even scheduled myself one totally unplugged weekend per month, and after hearing some good reviews, I'm picking up The Tech-Wise Family to explore this topic a little more.

I'd love to hear about your relationship with technology. Do you have personal guidelines for screen time in your home?