Like many of us, I check my phone a lot. The average American checks their phone 52 times daily, according to a 2018 Global Mobile Consumer Study by Deloitte. And that's not all. If you isolate average time spent on social media--two hours and 23 minutes per day--it's easy to see why digital detoxes are so popular. I decided to go on a digital detox to find out what I was missing by having that phone on hand all the time. That doesn't mean that I completely shunned my phone or social media, just that I vowed to be extremely mindful about its use, and set limits to keep myself honest.

I set a rule around checking my phone only a few times per day, deleted Facebook and Instagram, and checked them twice per week on my laptop with strict time limits. Here's what I learned.

I had more "aha!" moments.

The first few days were hard. I found myself reaching for my phone a lot (maybe not 52 times per day, but close) and had to retrain myself not to check my phone every time I had a free moment.

Once I stopped incessantly checking my phone, I found that my brain was clearer and less cluttered, and I was more able to think through business issues and opportunities with focus. Simply put: Epiphanies come easier away from WhatsApp and Facebook.

I read more books.

Sometimes, you use your phone to distract yourself from the situation at hand. But waiting in line at the grocery store, for example, doesn't require an uncluttered mind. So, in the spirit of mindfully detoxing digitally, I made one big exception: Reading on the Kindle was OK if I wasn't avoiding a social situation.

I am a voracious reader but often find that reading leadership and business books is hard to incorporate into my routine. I read before I go to sleep, but opt for choices that help me shut down for the day. Having the time to read in those small moments allowed me to read books about leadership and marketing, and to keep myself learning and inspired. That alone improved my leadership skills and helped me be a better CEO.

I missed the little boost of connection that Facebook gave me.

Many people who live abroad use Facebook groups as their "village," a way to learn about their communities or to compare notes about everything from tax preparers to the best restaurants in a new town.

As an American living abroad with a business focused on U.S. expats, I frequently turn to these online communities. Losing that access was a challenge and made me feel a bit disconnected.

Having access to social media means you know what is happening with everyone in your social circle. Missing those moments also means missing a chance for connection. So, while I loved breaking the habit of having Facebook open multiple times per day, I don't buy into the idea that a total social-media ban is required, or even beneficial, for connection.

Did it make me a better business leader? Unequivocally yes! The extra time I had to read and think was a gift. I can name at least one breakthrough I wouldn't have had with my face in a phone. But, like the rest of life, it's about balance and being mindful with your digital world, rather than choosing an all-or-nothing approach.

Published on: Jul 10, 2019
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