Revelations from a founder's smartphone sabbatical

For the whole of August, I embarked on a smartphone detox. There were a few reasons as to why, but the most prevalent was a worry around burnout. For the past 18 months I’d be working hard setting up and growing Shine Workplace Wellbeing, while also ensuring I was spending ample time with my two young sons.

Avoiding distractions

I was starting to feel exhausted and while holidays and days off always helped, I wanted to try something a bit different to see what impact it would make. It was also the school summer holidays and I was taking Mondays off to look after my eldest child.

I wanted this to be a memorable time and for him to have my full attention, rather than me getting distracted by work emails popping up.

And while I didn’t think I was addicted, I was conscious I used my smartphone more than I liked and wondered what effect this was having on my own wellbeing.

So on August 1st, the all-singing-all-dancing smartphone was replaced with a Nokia 105 with calling and texting its main features. Yes, it did have Snake(!), but no email, internet, apps or camera.

The positives I found:

  • I slept better. Within a few days I was falling asleep faster and felt my quality of sleep improved, meaning I felt fresher the next day.
  • I spent more time in the moment. With no distractions and occasional quick phone checks, my focus and concentration – be it on a work task or spending time with the children – was greater. This meant I was more efficient with work and personal activities were more enjoyable. And because I was in the moment more, I was a better father.
  • I read more. I needed entertainment for journeys so while I’d have previously relied on my phone for news, sport or Spotify, I finally got through some magazines and books I’d been meaning to read for months. In turn, I probably learnt more.
  • After a few days, I really didn’t miss it (apart from the areas listed below) and I didn’t feel like I missed out in any way. I discovered you can access Whatsapp on a computer, so I checked in on that occasionally. I still used a computer on the days I was working, but once I finished for the day, I didn’t interact with digital devices again.
  • My mind felt calmer and gradually de-cluttered. I felt more relaxed, happier and content with life.
  • My concerns about how we use phones though only exacerbated. Not having one allowed me to observe people’s behaviour with theirs. Many parents seemingly spend more time interacting with a handset than with their kids; a lot of gym users scroll through feeds rather than exercising; and roughly 90% of people on train carriages use their phone through journeys – no books or newspapers, just the lure of the screen.
  • Oh and the world didn’t end.

There were negatives…

  • The things I missed most were the navigation and journey planner apps. On busy days with multiple meetings, I had to spend time the night before plotting routes which took up a bit of time.
  • The Ashes were on for a large proportion of the month meaning I was without score updates when away from home / office!
  • Not having a camera option meant I missed out on capturing some good moments on days out with the kids. That’s easily remedied for the future – bring a camera!

So what now?

At the end of my detox, I returned to my smartphone. It unquestionably makes aspects of life convenient and is a great tool when running a startup business. However, I have made major changes to how I use it – and the Nokia is still in the mix.

  • On days where I’m just at home or in the office and I don’t have a need for a smartphone, the Nokia 105 is the device of choice. The simple SIM card switch takes under a minute.
  • If I’ve got a busy day of meetings and I’m out and about – and I need to check emails, use maps etc – the smartphone gets the call up.
  • At home, the lounge is now a phone free zone. And upon returning from work on a day I’ve used the smartphone, it goes in a drawer so the full focus can be on the family.

Having made these positive changes and the wellbeing benefits I experienced during my smartphone detox, I feel like the decision to ditch it, albeit temporarily, had the desired effect. I know it won’t work for everyone, but I would encourage you to try.

This post was not sponsored by the Nokia 105 😉