5 Ways to Enjoy Digital Downtime Over the Holidays, Without Disconnecting Completely

Photo: Getty Images/Westend61
During the holidays, so many things compete for your attention: gift-buying errands, family obligations, work-related holiday parties, wrapping, baking, and so on, and so forth. Add a steady stream of iPhone notifications related to scary world events and the many unattainable things Instagram influencers are spending the season doing (like making marshmallows from scratch or doing poolside yoga at a stunning resort) to that list, and you might just go crazy—or at least not feel awesome about yourself. In other words, it’s a great time to disconnect. Doing so let's you actually enjoy QT with the great people in your life.

Before you dismiss the suggestion as unreasonable, keep in mind that I’m not prescribing a digital detox—during the holidays or anytime of year for that matter. (Tech and I are good friends; my devices make my life easier and bring me joy in many ways.) Rather than shutting things off for two weeks and dealing with the anxiety of digital withdrawal, simply apply a little more consciousness to your tech habits so you can rein them in just enough. Think of it like making some healthy food swaps rather than going on a full-blown elimination cleanse.

So, check out a few easy ways to kind-of, sort-of disconnect in order to enjoy some desperately needed digital downtime.

1. Turn off your notifications

Between Christmas and New Year’s, if you’re not working and aren’t required to respond to your manager’s “urgent" requests, the only “ding!” that should interrupt your (maybe steamy) reading time is the sound of jingle bells. Go through your apps with push notifications, and ask yourself whether you really need to be getting them this week.

If you really want to stay on top of Instagram to see pictures of your Australian cousin’s holiday cookies, maybe you compromise by giving Twitter and Slack the temporary boot? Even if you can only silence or snooze a couple of apps, the change will be helpful. When you get a notification, you’re distracted from what you’re doing in real life, and you end up clicking around to other inconsequential things.

2. Set a tech schedule

Another way to shift your tech habits from reactive to proactive is to have a plan for how you’ll engage with your phone and other devices during your downtime. For instance, maybe you need to check in on email a bit, so you set an hour each day for this task, then ignore your inbox the rest of the day.

You might also make a list of apps to ignore, or a schedule for the amount of time you spend on each. Try to make a plan that prioritizes tasks and minimizes the things that often result in mindless, anxiety-inducing scrolling or appsturbating. Apple’s new Downtime feature can help a lot with that: It grays out apps after you’ve reached a pre-set time limit, à la digital portion control.

3. Shift your media diet

Okay, here’s a fun idea: Ignore your news and book apps. Buy a newspaper, a few magazines, and/or a new book (like, one made of paper). Doing so will cut down the time you’d normally spend engaging with tech each day (and your eyes on a screen), and maybe I'm projecting here, but it’s way more fun to read the old-fashioned way when you’re sitting by a fire.

4. Go analog with your musings

Say you’re trying to disconnect but are itching to share your thoughts and opinions. Instead of posting your (brilliant, I’m sure) musings on social media, write them down in a journal.

Instead of posting your (brilliant, I’m sure) musings on social media, write them down in a journal.

No, you won’t get the same feedback from the online masses, but writing with a pen or a pencil actually feels really, really good. In fact, research shows that journaling can help to regulate emotions and make you happier (not to mention, keep you from fighting with the Twitterati).

5. Do something where you can’t bring your phone

Another smart, surefire way to build digital downtime into your holiday vacay is to plan activities that legit won’t allow you to use your phone while you’re there. Schedule a yoga or meditation class, or even a spa or sauna session. Better yet, invite your family members to go with you, so you’re getting holiday bonding time, too. And if Aunt Betty really can’t be convinced to try her first infrared session, there’s always a holiday play, or a concert, or even a board game to play—and none require you to use technology.

Carley Knobloch is a technology expert and stylist who's a regular fixture on Today with Kathie Lee & Hoda and KTLA in Los Angeles. She’s also HGTV’s smart home expert, where she helps audiences make sense of emerging home technology in an easy, approachable way. Find her on Twitter or Instagram at @carleyknobloch.

Here's what happened when one entrepreneur removed email from her phone—for good. Spoiler: The world didn't end. And to do your sleep health a solid, consider turning off your phone at night.

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