How To Do a Digital Detox: 10 Strategies To Help Business Owners Disconnect
(ETA: for more in-depth learning, scroll to the bottom!)
Ever read those blog posts about people who have just returned from a digital detox deep in the mountains where there was no service and so all they did all day was journal, and sip tea on the balcony, and enjoy nature, and do yoga, etc. etc.?
That sounds amazing. But realistic? Not for me, and maybe not for some of you as well. Here is my story:
My husband is waiting for a heart transplant. That means phones are ON 24/7 because The Call™ could come at any moment - if he doesn’t answer on the first try, they call me next. Being away from my phone or having no cell service is pretty nerve-wracking. Some people know my story and know why I always have my phone out. Some people don’t know my story but know I always have my phone out. And because I have my phone out, I’m seeing (and responding) to every notification, buzz, and ding that occurs.
You might have your phone on all the time for different reasons - maybe you have kids that need to be able to get ahold of you. Maybe you have a huge client in a different time zone and want to be available for them (and *just* for them). Maybe you are waiting for big news. Everyone has a reason, and every reason is valid (don’t ever let anyone shame you into believing that you shouldn’t have your phone out if you have a good reason!). Mine is health related, which everyone understands.
But what has happened because I have my phone practically glued to my hand?
I have created an environment where people feel free to contact me at all hours, any day of the week, on any channel (personal and professional) and expect me to respond immediately. Because that is what I did since I always had my phone handy.
Because I have failed to set boundaries.
I was spectacularly bad at this in the past, but thought I’d gotten a lot better. And after all, being available all of the time was good customer service, yes?
But let me back up and tell you another story. Just before my husband was activated on the transplant list, we took a short holiday because it was the last time we could travel without having to worry about where we were going or if there was service. I told everyone I would be away. I had an out of office message on my email. I had an away message on my phone. Can you guess what happened?
I had people who would call or email, get my out of office message, and then immediately text me or send me private messages over social media with their requests. They completely ignored my out of office message. I was actually offended that these people wouldn’t respect my holiday time. Instead of enjoying my holiday, I spent time fuming.
It took me a long time to realize that they were not disrespecting me. They were only treating me the way that I had taught them to treat me.
Let me repeat that.
They were treating me the way that I had taught them to treat me.
I looked back over my work habits, and it wasn’t only vacations that were being intruded upon. It was weekends, evenings, and any random days off that I needed for ‘me’ time. I needed to go back to Boundary Setting 101 again! This post is geared towards small business owners, especially those that manage their own social media, but really, these things can apply to anyone. And they apply whether you’re taking a 2 week family vacation, are away due to an unexpected emergency, or simply need an afternoon off.
Here is what I’ve learned, and what I still occasionally struggle with.
1. Don’t feel guilty for not being available
This is the hardest one, and is almost always a work in progress, especially if you’re a people pleaser (like me!). Your time is valuable, and always being ‘on’ can be really harmful for your mental, emotional, and even physical health. Please take care of yourself. Once you work on creating those boundaries, you will find that people will start to respect them (it may take a bit of time, so please exercise some patience as the people around you adjust). And for the few that just won’t get on board, you can then decide if you want to live with it, politely re-emphasize your boundaries to them directly, or drop them if you feel that their behaviour will continue.
This can be hard with clients, as we’re always worried about keeping them happy. Doubly hard if you are ‘friends’ with any of your clients and they see you posting that cute puppy video on Facebook after getting your out of office message. There are times where I’ve consciously NOT engaged on my personal social media feeds simply because I was worried about what they would think if they saw it. I know it’s silly - like I said, a work in progress!
2. Decide what to do with your public social media feeds
You can’t put an ‘out of office’ message on your social media**
There are 3 things you can do:
#1 - post a message indicating that you will be away from the office and that you won’t be posting until you get back. Send a few reminders and pin this post to the top of your profile (pro: you’re off duty as far as social media goes; con: you’ve publicly told the world your holidays, and if you’re leaving your house empty and vulnerable to burglars it might not be a good idea).
#2 - schedule posts ahead of time to cover your absence so that there is no interruption (pro: nobody knows you’re away; con: you will still need to monitor social media to reply to comments and inquiries).
#3 - simply stop posting with no explanation and then resume when you get back - I do not recommend this.
If you’re going to be away for a significant amount of time, and will be pausing all of your social media efforts, in addition to #1 you may also want to update the bio section of your profile so people know that you won’t be available.
**Facebook pages now lets you create an auto-reply for people who send you messages. You can set up a blanket response that goes out 24/7 (great for holidays) or you can set up a custom schedule (great for weekends, evenings).
3. Use an out of office message whenever possible
Sit down and think of all of the possible ways that people (clients) often contact you directly. Email. Phone. Text. Facebook Page message. Personal Facebook message. Twitter DM. LinkedIn message. Website contact form. Some of those have ‘away’ message functionality built in. Many do not. What you do with social media messages will depend on what you decided to do above. If you’ve sent out posts that you’re away, don’t respond to private messages. In fact, don’t even READ them. Especially Facebook, which will send a notification to the person that you’ve seen their message.
Text is a bit more difficult, but you can still set up a reply that will look like an auto-reply. On my iPhone, I set up a text replacement so that I can type ‘zz’ and it will be replaced with something like “Thanks for the message. I’m away from the office right now but will get back to you tomorrow.” Sometimes I know that this message will invite more conversation, so I simply ignore the text until I’m back in working hours.
4. Hide the notifications on your phone
I find it very hard to ignore notifications. I’m in the process of training myself not to jump on my phone every time it beeps (like Pavlov’s bell). And I find it very hard to pass over an app that has a red notification dot. Sometimes, for some apps, I’ll go into my settings and just turn off notifications - remove the temptation right at the source!
Another option is to use the ‘Do Not Disturb’ function on your phone if it has one - you can set exceptions so that certain people can still contact you. On my iPhone I can even schedule this so that it turns on/off automatically at a set time of day.
5. Set special ringtones/notifications for VIPs
This ensures that you can ignore everything (everyone) but the truly important. For example, my husband and his doctors have a special ringtone & a special text tone so I know if they are calling without having to even look at my phone.
6. Keep your phone 3 feet out of reach
This sounds silly, but it works especially well in combination with the previous tactic. Appeal to the lazy side of your personality and it’s amazing what beeps and dings and buzzes you can ignore! Especially if you’re curled up on the couch with a great book on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
7. Set client expectations early
For any new clients, do you have a written agreement with them? Does it outline explicitly how & when to contact you? And why to contact you? How to contact you normally, vs what to do in an emergency or outside of business hours? I do. It’s a part of the overall contract called the ‘client agreement’.
For example, I’ve had clients contact me about things that are real emergencies and need to be taken care of asap. It’s a pain, but it’s the price of being a business owner. I’ve also had clients contact me about things that they thought were emergencies, but weren't. Sometimes they just don’t know. Talk about this up front, when you’re signing the contract. If they try to push later on, gently remind them of your client agreement.
For existing clients, setting boundaries might be a process. Explain that you’re implementing a new process. Make sure that you emphasize that your “out of office” time allows you to take care of anything personal so that you’re not distracted during business hours and can focus your attention on them 100%. The truth may just be that you like having Friday afternoons off, but you don’t need to say that. Make it about them. And after all, having downtime WILL make you more focused and productive in the long term.
8. The client is freaking out over "nothing"
Whether or not it’s a “real” emergency, this is something you’ll likely need to deal with whether you want to or not. It might be easier just to deal with it right then. Or it might be a situation where you can explain that it’s not a problem and that you will deal with it as soon as you’re back (providing you’re going to be back soon). Whatever you do, be clear about your plan of action, then politely remind them that you are away from the office. If you’re OK with them following up with any questions or concerns, state that, and give them a deadline (i.e. if you have any concerns please let me know by 5pm today, after that I will be unavailable). If you’re not OK with them following up, state that as well - just be aware that might not be the right customer service tactic.
9. Sunday night/Monday morning debate
A lot of people find Monday morning stressful because they start their work day and are immediately overwhelmed by the amount of emails and messages they have to respond to. To prevent this, they look at everything Sunday night and prioritize, so they can actually focus on Monday morning and get things done. I was one of those people for awhile. But then you know what happened? Instead of dreading Monday morning, I began to dread Sunday night!
The moral is to find out what actually works for you (i.e. what causes the least amount of stress) by experimenting a bit. For me, having an out of office message on the weekend was a big deal, because at least anyone who had messaged me on the weekend got some sort of response - it meant that I didn’t feel so rushed to reply to them as soon as my eyes opened on Monday morning, because I had already auto-assured them that I would get back to them.
10. Stick to your boundaries
If you don’t, no one will. This means not making exceptions for certain clients over others unless it’s an emergency.
So pick the things that you think would help most, or that would be easiest to implement right away (like an out of office!). If there is something else that you’ve tried let me know in the comments - I’d love to add it to the list!