Digital Detox: How to Unplug and Why You Should

Remember when we all had hopes that technology was going to reduce our “busy time?” Well, guess what? If anything, the exact opposite has happened—to a degree that I bet no one could have ever predicted 20 or 30 years ago. Now, I am a huge fan of technology and of the positive aspects it offers for work and play. However, I also understand the benefits of a “digital detox,” and unplugging from technology from time to time.

Our “Always On” World

In a recent whitepaper titled Always On, Never Done? Don’t Blame the Smartphone, The Centre for Creative Leadership outlined stunning research, stating, “…professionals, managers, and executives who carry smartphones for work report interacting with work a whopping 13.5 hours every workday, (72 hours per week including weekend work).” Seventy-two hours. PER WEEK! Survey respondents, who are professionals, managers, and executives, reported having—on average—only about three hours on workdays for “discretionary” activities; things like being with family, exercising, showering, and all of those chores at home that, let’s face it, someone has to do.

But here’s the kicker—and here’s where we need to sit up and take notice: “Startlingly, they don’t blame technology for this dilemma that has them scrambling to manage their personal lives. They blame their companies—specifically, poor process, people (and time) management that is robbing them of their equilibrium and ability to recharge.”

The people interviewed for the research blame their companies.

And that’s why making sure your employees are aware of, understand the restorative powers of, and regularly partake in a digital detox is a responsibility that, as leaders, lies squarely on our shoulders.

The Harmful Effects of Too Much Tech

Call it what you will: Going off the grid, unplugging, disconnecting, shutting down—taking breaks from technology is essential to our productivity and our overall mental health. Here are just a few ways being “always on” digitally affects our wellbeing.

Increased stress. Our brains need time to unwind after work. Getting a stern text message or an urgent email late in the evening keeps your adrenaline levels high and your “fight or flight” instincts in motion. And the resultant worry and increased stress lead nicely into this…

Decreased sleep. It’s common knowledge that when you’re stressed out and “wired,” sleep becomes elusive. But, did you know that using technology at night—even for fun—can impact sleep? That’s down to cortisol, a hormone that keeps us alert. Studies have found that the blue wavelength light from LED-based devices (phones, tablets, computers) increases the release of cortisol in the brain, not only keeping us alert when we least need to be, but also inhibiting the production of melatonin, which is necessary to fall asleep. Double whammy. Thanks, iPad.

Addiction, anyone? Yes, the Internet can be addictive—but I’m not talking FOMO (fear of missing out) addictive, I’m talking drug abuse addictive. Studies have found actual changes in the brain sizes of heavy Internet users, as well as problems with connectivity between certain areas of the brain. And if that’s not alarming enough, according to, Internet abuse can cause a “…pattern of neural circuitry associated with…a diminished ability for self-modulation, lessened aptitude for maintaining long-term goals, and easy distractibility.”

Not traits you want to see in your employees. And just one more reason why a digital detox should be on your radar screen. But what is a digital detox, exactly?

Digital Detox

According to Google, the term detox describes “…a process or period of time in which one abstains from or rids the body of toxic or unhealthy substances; detoxification.” So a digital detox is just taking a break from all things digital to breathe—to reflect.

The Digital Detox movement has grown to the degree that there’s actually a company out there called Digital Detox® – with one of the greatest brand slogans I’ve ever read: “Digital Detox® is a slow-down, not a start-up.”

Their goal? To slow. Us. Down. And get us off the hamster wheel of non-stop connectivity. They do this through a “…mindfulness-based and psychologically driven program with a handful of journals, yoga mats, arts and crafts, typewriters, and one agenda; disconnect to reconnect.” With programs aptly named Camp Grounded, Recess, Playshops, Color Wars, and Day Care, this is a company who clearly want to see a return to the stress and worry free days of our childhoods. And they’re hard core. Just check out the rules that you need to adhere to if you attend one of their retreats:

  • No Digital Technology
  • No Networking
  • No Phones, Internet or Screens
  • No Work-Talk
  • No Clocks
  • No Boss
  • No Stress
  • No Anxiety
  • No FOMO (fear of missing out)

I know a few people whose heads would blow off just reading that list!

How to Detox on a Dime

It’s imperative that as leaders in the HR space, we need to drive the change needed when it comes to disconnecting digitally. We can’t be afraid to be the driving force behind policy changes and other company-wide initiatives—remember, the goal here is to minimize technologies impact on employee health (and ultimately increase productivity). That said, you don’t have to shell out big bucks or carve out great chunks of time for a corporate retreat to rejuvenate your teams through a digital detox. Here are just a few ways your company (and your HR department) can help encourage employees to unplug.

  • If you can, mandate set hours (say, between 7 pm and 6 am) where sending texts and emails is verboten—unless an emergency arises, of course. Include weekends, and lead by example by sticking to that dark time.
  • Have teams hold at least one “tech free” brainstorming/blue-sky meeting per month. Bring back the whiteboard and markers, and ensure everyone in the room understands “anything goes.”
  • Actively encourage socializing, and make breaks mandatory, whether weekly lunch outings, birthday celebrations, or monthly team building exercises.
  • Where possible, insist that staff on vacation leave their work behind. Make sure people know who’s on vacation and when, so they’re not being bombarded by emails and texts.
  • Go out of your way as leaders to encourage good old-fashioned face-to-face communication.

And, perhaps most importantly, make it clear to your employees that their worth doesn’t lie in their “reachability.” If anything, it’s the exact opposite.

People change when they’re disconnected. They become relaxed and present. They maintain eye contact again and build deeper relationships. They become more empathetic, kinder, more focused, and they definitely sleep better. And these benefits spill over into their performance at work.

Our digitally connected world is expanding at a frightening pace, and it’s just going to continue getting bigger and more connected. And just like any “bad habit” that’s so hard to break, a digital detox might not come naturally. But if you start switching up your digital habits today, even incrementally, I guarantee you’ll be healthier and happier, and both your workplace and your personal relationships will benefit. And that’s a win-win in my book.

What do you think? Have you been actively “detoxing” from technology? Do you think taking a break from tech is just a pipe-dream in our digitally driven world? I would love to hear your thoughts!

A version of this post was first published on

Photo Credit: Joe The Goat Farmer via Compfight cc