I’ve often wished there were a remote control for real life that let you fast forward through the unpleasant parts and pause on the good stuff. There’s not, but there is a practice that will put you back in control of your time. To explain, I need to hit rewind.
Ten years ago, everything in my life was blurring together. My phone never stopped buzzing. I felt distracted and rarely present. I knew I needed a way to slow it all down.
My family and I started going completely screen-free one day a week for what we called our Technology Shabbat. We read, journaled, cooked, had friends over, went for bike rides, played music, made art, and sometimes we just did nothing.
A decade later, we’re still doing it every week (our daughters are now 16 and 10), and it’s still our favorite day. It’s made the whole family happier and more balanced. My husband Ken and I also feel much more creative and more productive after our Tech Shabbats.
While real-life remotes don’t exist, this practice seems to have a similar effect. It makes days with tech feel fast, but lets you linger on the best parts of life on your screen-free day. What’s the one day you want to feel extra long? Your day off.
I urge you to give it a try, especially if you’re feeling like you’re on your phone too much. The rules are simple: each week, don’t use your phone or any other screens for 24 hours. (My family does it from Friday night to Saturday night, because we’re Jewish, but I should note we’re not religious; you can do it whenever works best for you.)
Here’s how to get started.
Planning for your first Tech Shabbat is a little like planning a day trip to the ’70s or ’80s. Fifty years ago, when people were predicting what life would look like in the future, they talked about space suits and teleportation. I doubt anyone imagined we’d be culturing our own pickles and making macrame wall hangings. But here we are, and I think this desire to return to analog items makes sense. When time is your greatest luxury, the things that take the most time—making things by hand—become more valuable. Tech Shabbat allows you to take a break and remember an era when spending time on things that take time was part of the pleasure.
Since your Tech Shabbat technology will date to the disco era, that means your phone is on the wall and stuck there. If you don’t have your landline anymore, it’s time to get it back. Besides being useful when you lose your cell phone—not to mention in other actual emergencies—a landline can be very handy on Tech Shabbat.
If people need to get in touch with you, if you want to call someone you miss, that’s your portal to do it. The landline is limited. It has one purpose and no dazzling distractions.
While you’re shopping in the past, get yourself a watch. Not an Apple Watch; just a watch. (Don’t go crazy on me and get a pocket watch. We’re not at the Renaissance Faire or the Steampunk Expo.)
One piece of modern machinery comes in handy as you prepare: a printer. Use it the day before your screen-free day to print out schedules, maps, and any other information you’ll need. You’ll also want to print a list of your most important phone numbers: family, best friends, doctors, special-occasion takeout, skunk removal services, etc. Keep this by your landline. I also keep a shorter version in my wallet and our kids’ backpacks, because it’s useful in a weekday emergency or when you drop your cell phone in the toilet in the airport on your way to another country. (Yes, that happened to me.)
(Speaking of Dough)
It’s really satisfying to do things old-school once a week. Every Friday, we make an “everything” challah to enjoy at Shabbat dinner that night. This yummy sweet bread has a crust like an everything bagel. We mix and knead it in the morning and let it rise all day.
Making bread may not be your thing. (Although putting your hands in dough instead of on your phone feels pretty great.) You also might work long hours and not have time for a project you have to let rise during the day. That’s OK. The idea is to have something extra and unique, be it food you eat only on that day, flowers on the table, or wine you drink only for special occasions—something that enhances and marks the day.
The next important step in prepping for your Tech Shabbat: Tell your family. (If there are guilt trips for not being reachable every second, just give them your landline number. If you don’t have a landline, considering getting one. Besides Tech Shabbat, a landline is handy when you lose your cellphone and in actual emergencies.) Tell all your friends you’ll be offline by announcing it through the plethora of communication tools available to us now—via mouth, on the book of Face and the gram of Insta, and if you are on Twitter, tweet that @#%$ out. Trust me. It helps to hold you accountable, and your friends and family will support you. They may even want to join. (Writing my book 24/6 will hold me accountable for the rest of my life. I like that.) Tell your boss and coworkers. I highly recommend framing it as “I’ll be more productive, more creative, happier, and more efficient if I go offline for 24 hours.”
Screen-free days are a great time to spend with friends, family, people who feel like family. We bond over food, and eating with others has demonstrated health benefits, like lower rates of depression. It’s also fun, which is why we always invite guests for our Shabbat dinner to start our screen-free day. We often invite new people we’d like to get to know better, since we’ll have time to talk without distractions. Surround yourself with people you admire, people who are there for you, who you are there for, people you can learn from.
A couple of times a year we do what we call our Chutzpah Shabbat. “Chutzpah” means “boldness,” so this one is all about inviting someone we barely know but deeply admire and find particularly interesting. It’s an exercise in bravery. Make a list of people who inspire you, you want to know better, or you relish spending time with. Start inviting them over. People love being invited over for dinner. I enjoy thinking about the idea, “The five people you hang out with most, you become.” It makes you want to choose wisely, and in a lot of ways, that’s what our screen-free time is all about.