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Digital Detox

Our digital connectivity—smart phones, tablets and computers—can create a false sense of productivity. Most people I talk to are on a hamster wheel of trying to delete and unsubscribe to e-mails, check social media, watch suggested You Tube videos and Ted Talks, all before breakfast. Unfortunately none of these activities is essential to our well-being or productivity. It’s no wonder we are paying big money to have our phones taken away for a week or more at retreat centers.

Sky scrapers had us looking up and our smart phones keep us looking down, either way, technology keeps us from being engaged or connected to nature and the people around us. I was recently in Kauai and stayed as a guest in a neighborhood with an elevator down to the beach. I took the elevator for nearly a week until finally it hit me: What am I doing riding in this steel box when I can perambulate up and down a hill in a tropical paradise? Habit had me choosing the modern convenience.

Getting “out of the elevator” (away from technology) feels difficult and lonely at first. A lot of people continue on the high tech ride and have camaraderie and support around those behaviors. But a shift started a dozen years ago toward what’s called “high touch”—the human, the simple and the natural. Here’s what most health and productivity experts suggest, with my notes:

• No devices an hour before bed: This is a toughie. I have a bad habit of bringing my iPad to bed and saying to myself, “Just one more episode of the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and I’ll turn out the light.” But apparently, the blue light from screens of all sorts, including our childhood friend, the television, stimulates the brain, keeping it awake.

• No devices in the bedroom: If the computer, phone or tablet is not in the bedroom, you’ll be less tempted to reach for it if you can’t sleep. Toss and turn for a while if you can’t sleep, just don’t toss the paperback and turn on the iPad.

• Press mute: Turn off sound alerts on your phone and check it only once an hour at most (unless you’re expecting a very important call, in which case, leave the sound on rather than check the phone every five minutes). When the people around you can hear your many pings and rings, they don’t think you’re popular or important, they just think you’re rude and annoying.

• Attack of the apps: Is your phone or tablet cluttered with a bunch of apps you barely recognize? Delete any apps you haven’t used in two months, so you can avoid unnecessary update notices. You’ll also be much better able to find the app you need quickly. I hate it when I turn on my phone to take a quick picture and can’t immediately find my camera app.

• Unsubscribe: One of the most annoying features of shopping online is the practically unavoidable subscriptions to all kinds of offers and newsletters. You can unsubscribe one by one. Don’t fall for the company’s line, “Are you sure you don’t want to save hundreds of dollars? We’ll miss you!” Be ruthless and hit the “yes” button. Even easier, use unrollme or another program to automatically unsubscribe to e-mails you don’t want.

• Meal time should be sacred: I’m the worst for distracted, speedy eating. I either have to have the TV on or my phone in front of me when I eat. Experts say that if you truly take a break from busy-ness and distraction while eating you will digest better and eat less. It’s too easy to eat past fullness when we’re not paying attention.

• Less tech-y distractions: When at the gym try exercising without headphones or television, even for a few minutes, to check in with your body.

• Exercise at least one day a week outdoors: When I do this I feel fantastic and wonder why I don’t do it more. But then a gust of wind sandblasts my face with fine grit or a car zooms by and scares the daylights out of me and I head back, sneezing and shaken, to the treadmill.