Zoe Amar: How charity leaders can take a festive digital detox

Decide what's achievable, divert your attention and act to reinforce the change over Christmas

Zoe Amar
Zoe Amar

Christmas is a whirl of mince pies, prosecco and parties, but amid the seasonal indulgence I’m hearing rumblings of something more moderate from several charity leaders.

They’re talking about avoiding emails and deleting social media apps over the festive break. So why should you consider this? And, most importantly, how can charity leaders do it?

A digital detox means having time away from your phone or other electronic devices as a way to ease stress and live in the moment. For some people this will involve going cold turkey, switching their out-of-office messages on, then locking their phones away. For others this might mean checking email and social media once or twice a day (the average Briton checks their phone every 12 minutes).

So the first step is to decide what’s achievable for you on the detox spectrum.

Second, having a reason to do it helps. Tom Watson, business and communications lead at the local social action group Navca tells me that he turned off his phone last Christmas because he "wanted to get rid of what I call 'digital noise' to give my brain a rest and allow space for my own mind". If you have a strong motive to take a digital break, you’re more likely to see it through.

I’ve read that if you want to spend less time online you need an offline hobby. This Christmas I have brought myself a stack of new books and will be baking as a way to distract myself from checking my phone.

I’m not going to pretend a digital detox is an easy thing to do. There is huge pressure on everyone to be "always on". Delegating could help charity leaders take a proper break. Gemma Peters, chief executive of Bloodwise, says: "I try to get the balance right by checking in with social media and emails at the beginning of the day. Then I leave my work phone in a drawer out of sight. If it’s urgent I know the team have other ways to get hold of me and not having it physically on me means I don’t get tempted."

If you are worried you could fall off the wagon, you could treat this like the urge to snack when on a diet. Ask yourself why you are really doing this. Are you bored, or feeling anxious? What is the worst that could happen if you don’t see that tweet or email at a quiet time of year, when no one expects you to be in the office anyway?

It’s hard to make a change without relapsing and I admit that whenever I’ve tried time away from my phone on holiday I end up sneaking looks at it, although not as often as normal. I should have planned for what to do in these situations.

Beth Gardner, assistant director of engagement at Anthony Nolan, has pledged not to access social media or games and check personal emails and WhatsApp only once a day for urgent messages over Christmas. Gardner says: "I will donate £2 to Anthony Nolan for each lapse." Could you donate to a charity if you are tempted?

Finally, reinforcing the change will help maintain the benefits. Watson tells me that after his digital detox last Christmas "my mind was open to ideas. It felt like I had been trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle in the dark and now someone had turned on the lights."

That’s convinced me to give it a go. Who’s with me?

Zoe Amar is the founder of the digital and marketing consultancy Zoe Amar Digital @zoeamar 

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