- I quit three of my worst nighttime tech habits -using social media, watching TV, and wasting time on my phone before going to bed – for one week.
- Knowing my tech time had a cutoff, I became more intentional with the time I did have access.
- While Netflix and Instagram couldn’t bait me, I found that going even just one hour without texting proved too difficult, and I failed repeatedly.
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Every night, I have an idea of what I want to accomplish before bed.
But just as often, I find myself slipping into the quicksand that is the internet.
The idea of being bored for an hour sounded great. Tasks like doing the dishes, writing more, and packing lunch for work would all seem more appealing once I ceased any real entertainment. I had the pre-diet giddiness of someone trying the new Keto cleanse – I’m going to be so much better this time.
Plus, this would be a piece of cake. If you're reading this, you're probably like me - a self-improvement fiend who never met a seven-day challenge I didn't like. Compared to quitting the trend of fast fashion or a months-long running streak, would this really be that bad? If anything, I worried that an hour wouldn't be enough to see a difference and I wouldn't have anything to report. Who wants to read about a null hypothesis?
This is probably a good time to say I failed on the first day.
Let's get into it.
On Monday night, everything was going great until my phone lit up.
Since I go to bed at 11 p.m., I made my technology cut-off 10 p.m. On Mondays, I typically stay late at work and then go for a distance run on a trail near the office. After doing my normal Monday routine, commuting home, and picking up groceries, it was already just about 10 p.m.
It occurred to me that no phone meant no music. As the time inched closer to 10 p.m., I started choosing my songs more judiciously. Whatever played last would set the mood for the night.
First things first, I tried setting up an alarm on the analog clock from my childhood. When it didn't work, I realized I still needed my phone for alarms and should probably leave it on. Mistake No. 1.
Next, I rolled out my mat to do what I thought was 20 minutes of yoga. A glance at my clock - okay, my iPhone - informed me that actually, no, I only did eight minutes.
Fine. I would read.
As I sat reading, my phone started going off. Not answering would be rude, right? Since many of my friends live far away, I could always cheat a little. Once I found a break in the conversation, I would say goodnight. Mistake No. 2.
While I turned my lights off promptly at 11 p.m., my phone kept glowing, and I kept responding well into the night. What can I say? I'm weak.
On Tuesday, I decided to buckle down and get stuff done — I ended up staying up way too late.
I woke up feeling groggy. No connection to the texting, I'm sure.
Instead of feeling bad about that, I felt guilty about all I didn't accomplish the night before. Every day, I need to bring a change of clothes, makeup, lunch, reusable containers, coffee, and book for the metro with me to work, and I swear, getting it all into one bag takes more time and brainpower than packing for a two-week trip. This experiment provided the perfect reason to pack this bag the night before work rather than the morning of.
Did I end up making use of the time? Of course not.
This morning I couldn't find the undershirt I needed for the dress I planned to wear, so I had to swap outfits and repack. I left for work running late and with dishes in the sink. I blamed the eight minutes of yoga.
Tuesday night, I tried a different approach. No internet after 10 p.m. meant I couldn't save my freelance work until after a Netflix break, which meant I needed to do it as soon as possible. Since I needed to work out and clean my house, I preferred to do that while I could still listen to music.
Instead of seeing the night as an expanse where I could get anything done, preferably later, I felt the urge to get everything out of the way right away.
It worked a little too well. When 10 p.m. rolled by, I didn't want to stop being productive. Instead, I just pushed my bedtime back by an hour. Mistake No. 3.
Maybe out of guilt for changing my bedtime, I started in on all of my least favorite tasks.
Normally, I hate blow-drying my hair at night even though it saves time in the morning, but Tuesday night I actually did it. Then I packed my bag and made coffee for the next morning before realizing I still owed myself an hour of tech-free time. I had, of course, been texting friends all the while.
I decided reading would help me wind down after all of that productivity. Even though I silenced my phone, I felt phantom vibrations coaxing me to check for messages. I noticed a dripping sound coming from the shower, but resisted the urge to search "leaky faucet fixes." I wondered if morning workouts burned more calories than evening workouts, but didn't Google. Eventually, I fell asleep.
After staying up late Tuesday to clean, meal prep, and workout, I overslept Wednesday but felt good going into the day.
Guess who slept through all their alarms? I didn't mind. My hair was already styled, my day was packed and my house smelled pleasantly of mint and lemon. Good. This was going to be a busy day. After work, I had a happy hour, a committee meeting for a local environmental group, and then was having a friend over for drinks.
It was the ideal time to nix tech because, really, when would I have the time? When 10 p.m. rolled around, I diligently stayed away from my laptop and TV but kept texting. Shouldn't I make sure my guest got home safe?
And I was performing in an open mic comedy show the next night. Did it count if I was confirming plans with friends who wanted to attend? At some point, after yet another "just this last text," I did fall asleep.
After doing an open mic show on Thursday, the no-tech rule meant I couldn't spend the rest of the night focused on self-improvement.
After returning from the comedy show that night, my instinct was to watch interviews with my favorite stand-ups for advice and validation. Maybe email the MC to ask about the next opening. A guy also asked for my number after the show. Shouldn't I reply to him?
No. The answer was no. Begrudgingly, I left my laptop and phone alone and picked up my book instead.
On Friday, I realized that reading more at night had a halo effect on the rest of my day.
Reading at night helped me read more overall. By carving out time to read each night, I found myself in the "good part" of a few books. In quieter moments, like as I waited in line or rode the metro, I was more inclined to open my book than social media.
After work, I decided to take a nap before going out with friends. The nap ended up lasting until morning. Clearly, restful sleep was not an outcome of this project. Let's continue to blame the yoga.
Instead of using a mellow Saturday night as an excuse to binge on Netflix, I found myself far more inclined to read.
A long-distance run Saturday evening left me exhausted. New York heat in August has a way of ringing you out like a rag. Since plans to visit home for the weekend fell through, I didn't have to be anywhere.
What a perfect night to watch a movie or two. Order Seamless. Fall asleep by 10 p.m. Well, probably midnight if I knew myself well enough. But what was the point of starting a movie if I couldn't finish it before my tech cutoff? I was also starting to see the book I was devouring in a new light. At the end of each chapter was a definite ending. No infinite scroll or autoplay like on social media.
Knowing texting had been my downfall all week, I made time during the day to call two of my best long-distance friends and filled my Sunday with social plans. And since I didn't have to wake up with an alarm the next morning, I let myself turn my phone off completely for the first time all week.
Sunday felt like a true win. After coming home from dinner with a friend, I didn't even feel tempted to use my phone.
I technically had an hour of tech time left, but why start a conversation or a movie you couldn't finish? Earlier that day, I became the temporary mom of an incredibly shy foster cat, so I focused on making the little guy feel more comfortable while he hid under the bed.
I skipped out on some of my more ambitious nighttime goals like meal prep or learning embroidery. But I did end up doing the dishes and finding something to wear the next day.
I was grateful to have caught up on sleep over the weekend and, with my phone safely on silent, crashed pretty quickly.
I highly recommend seven-day or 30-day challenges like this because they help you identify needs in your life.
Now that my one-week challenge is complete, I can safely recommend that other people try similar challenges, because they help you identify needs in your life.
For example, I can't kick myself too much for texting after my cutoff each night because it helped me realize I was craving time with long-distance friends. Reaching out during the day made it easier to shut my phone off at night, a change I'm sure my REM cycle appreciated.
When it came to time-sucks like Netflix and Twitter, I discovered that I didn't miss them once they were gone. At the same time, going overboard on the productivity front also had its shortcomings.
While I'm not sure I would do this every week, I like the idea of doing this on a quarterly basis as a way to slow down and do a check-in on my relationship with technology.