How to digital detox this Christmas – without ditching your phone

At the post office recently, my school-aged daughter spied a cagey contraption she wanted us to buy.

“It’s a phone jail,” she said, looking pointedly between me and her dad.

“I think you two should put your phones in it every night during dinner.”


Suitably shamed, we bought the bloody phone jail. We’ve used it only twice. But the sight of it every morning, tucked away next to the coffee machine, does remind me how quickly we lose ourselves into the sinkhole of handheld technology every day.

It’s enough to make me want to do something about it.

So I am: I’m going on a digital detox this Christmas.

And because I want it to actually work, I’ve sought out advice from experts in the field.

After all, if this is going to work, it can’t be an all or nothing affair – there’s no way I would succeed on a diet over Christmas if I decided to suddenly avoid all sugar, fat and alcohol during the most sociable season of the year. So, I can’t expect to have success with a digital diet that simply cuts everything out, either.

Instead, I’m following the advice of Cal Newport, a computer science professor and author of Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.

In summary, here’s his advice:

1. Cull
Use your smartphone only for the following activities: calls, text messages, maps, and audio (songs/podcasts/books).

2. Redirect
You can still do all of your usual online activities: browse the web, catch up on news, use social media, etc. But you can only do it on your laptop. “When you’re away from your computer, your phone is still useful for basic operations, but it ceases to act as a crutch that helps you avoid the world around you,” Cal says.

3. Record
“I suggested that my students try this for one week… and actually record on a calendar or in a journal whether or not they succeeded in following the rule 100% for the day. One slip to check social media, or glance at email, or look up a website, and they don’t get to mark the day as a success,” he says.

Try this for a couple of weeks and when (if!) you’re ready to return to usual programming in the new year, consider hiding your most problematic (time-wasting) apps inside a folder on page three.

It’ll help you resist checking in just to pass time – and you may just start the new decade with an uber-productive pep in your step!