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The Eight Elements of a Digital Sabbath

You’re at the grocery store and what do you see?  People on their smartphones, walking down the aisles.  You go to the restaurant and what do you see?  Whole families sitting near one another but not really being present to each other.  Even at church, with just a few spare minutes before services, you’ll see smartphones pulled out of pockets and purses.  Just in case I miss something...

The smartphone cometh and has taken us to places we never imagined.

Consider the following:

  • Did you know that, according to Pew Research, only 15% of teens do not have a smartphone?  That means that the kid next door to the kid next door to the kid next door... all using smartphones.  I can remember just a few years ago when smartphones were kind of a luxury.  Today, not so much.
  • There's more- the average person, according to AOL News, unlocks their phone 80 times per day.  Think about that for a moment.  We unlock (and then use) our phones 80 times per day.  What else do you do 80 times per day? I can't think of anything if I'm honest.

When I first read that last stat, I didn't believe it.  Then, I tested out an app called Moment.  I realized that I was picking up my phone way more than I realized.  Dozens of times per day to be exact.

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Can you relate to all of this?  Do you pick up your phone more than you’d like, feeling tempted to check it even in the thinnest moments of your day?  

What can you do if you are starting to feel as if your phone is taking over your life?  I suggest one simple thing and it’s called The Digital Sabbath.  

The Digital Sabbath is a technique borrowed from ancient Judaism and Christianity whereby believers would take a day out of their week to rest.  The concept was deeply baked into the DNA of adherents: no work, just rest, play, enjoyment and renewal.  That sounds good, doesn't it?

To most of us, this idea sounds cute.  I used to think this too until I started to take it seriously. I figured I had nothing to lose so I picked Sunday as my day of the week.  Since I’m a Catholic Christian, this also made lots of sense.  Sunday would be the day when I would try not to use my phone.

After doing this experiment for several months, I’ve found the following to be eight key elements of a successful digital sabbath:

  1. Define what “digital” means to you.  To me, it’s mostly my phone + Twitter + Facebook.  I don’t feel tempted to check Instagram or LinkedIN any more so those didn’t make the cut.
  2. Decide why you want to do the sabbath in the first place.  For me, it’s a break, a breather and a barrier.  I need rest from digital usage.  I want to breath a different pace of life and finally, I want to gradually create a healthy barrier between me and my technology.  A day off helps me to do that.
  3. Don’t beat yourself up.  If you mess up and suddenly check your phone at a point in the day, be gentle with yourself.  Put it down and get back to whatever you were doing.  It’s ok.
  4. When with others, keep gadgets out of sight.  Fight the urge to place the phone between you and your partner when you’re eating a meal or having a conversation.
  5. When watching TV or a movie, keep gadgets far enough away that you’re not tempted to reach for them.  This might apply to a tablet or your phone or your laptop.
  6. Pick up a book. Grab one that you really enjoy and have been looking forward to reading.  Give yourself permission to read something analogue (a book, newspaper, etc.).
  7. Include nature or leisure.  By going outdoors or to a museum or street fair, you’ll “trick” your brain and distract yourself.  To the degree that you can divert your attention to truly beautiful things (art, music, nature, etc.), all the better.
  8. Celebrate the end of the sabbath.  It’s ok to enjoy checking Facebook or email at the end of the day.  Like breaking a fast, this is when you can reconnect with whomever you need to online.

These eight elements can make for a happy and productive digital sabbath.  Why not schedule your next digital sabbath?  When can you put down the phone and take a day for yourself to unplug?

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