I go offline from 8pm - 8am every day.
This means that I disconnect from email, social media, and internet for 12 consecutive hours each day.
This habit initially started with avoiding email first thing in the morning and last thing before bed, based on advice from from Tim Ferriss in the The 4-Hour Workweek. He said that one simple change would be a life-changer, and it has been for me.
I then extended to a full digital detox for 12 straight hours — including about eight hours of sleep and two hours immediately after waking and two hours just before going to sleep — after reading the book The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey.
I have been able to stick with this “12-on, 12-off” approach for the last several years and find that it greatly increases my overall productivity and peace of mind.
Disconnecting for 12 straight hours isn’t as hard or extreme as it might sound.
Roughly eight of these hours are spent sleeping, which I now prioritize based on sleep’s proven health benefits. I keep my phone on airplane mode during this time to prevent unwanted disturbances (I can be reached on my land line in case of emergency). I have personally found the ideal sleep hours to be 10pm - 6am (or 5:30am depending on the morning), in order to maximize my mornings and evenings while still getting enough rest.
Upon waking, I like to start the day with 10 minutes of meditation, 30 minutes of exercise (usually running outside), and then enjoy a cup of coffee while getting ready for work, followed by breakfast with my family.
This morning routine puts me in the right frame of mind to tackle the rest of the day and be “all in” at work. I also find that many of my work breakthroughs or ‘aha’ moments come during these pre-online morning hours. All of this would be derailed if I checked email or went down the rabbit hole of social media first thing in the morning.
I try to keep my work day to 9 hours (10 at most) because productivity has been shown to go down dramatically after that point, and I can feel this dropoff. I also find that setting hard office hours forces me to get my work done in that amount of time, much like a work deadline does. Getting home by 6 or 6:30pm (most of the time) enables me to spend time with my family, eat dinner, and then do a last check of email if necessary.
I then like to spend the last 1–2 hours before bed offline, taking care of personal items, hanging with family, and relaxing after the long day (which for me includes reading, writing, enjoying a glass of wine, or watching TV).
Checking email too close to bed makes my mind race with all of the things I need to do, making it very challenging to fall asleep. I am better prepared to read and respond to those emails the following day when I have the time and am well-rested.
All of this means that I am offline for 12 hours per day — from about 8pm - 8am (this window can shift up or back by 30 minutes on any given day). I also try to avoid email and social media for one day each weekend.
Keeping this schedule enables me to prioritize the things that are most important in my life — my family, my health, and my work. If I was always connected and attached to my phone or computer, I am sure that each of those three buckets would suffer.
Your schedule likely looks a bit different than mine, and that is to be expected. This is not a prescription for exactly how you should structure your time, or intended to be a one-size-fits-all approach. You should find the routine that works best for you. But I do believe that we all need enough time offline to gain perspective and make time for the things that truly matter.
I have found that balancing my online and offline time helps me to achieve balance in my life overall.