Get Unplugged to Be More Productive

karolina zajac walks through the snow, with mountains in the background

Photo by Karolina Zając


It was a chilly evening, so I closed the window before bed.

The city light filtered through curtains, creating stripes on white walls and reminding me of how the sun shone through the trees today. I started to think about the day that had passed. I recalled all the rewarding moments I was grateful for, I appreciated the people I had met, and I thought about what I could do better the next day. I watched the day like a movie: how I had woken up, worked, and enjoyed a meal with my dearest one; how I cycled through the forest, phoned my friend, and chilled in the evening in our flat. It was such a rewarding day!

But, I forgot I was robbed of time.

Technology stole it.

According to recent studies, the average internet user spends almost 7 hours a day on their digital devices. Right in the morning, a full 71% of Americans admit to checking their phones within the first 10 minutes of waking up. Unbelievable, right?

I was shocked. It was crazy that I could lose so much time without realizing it! But then I considered what my typical day on the road looks like. I connect with friends, search for dinner recipes, check the weather, look for events, plan trips and activities after work. I post pics on social media, and I check out how my friends are doing on their social accounts. I read the news. Yes, I do that all on digital devices. Simply put, my smartphone is an extension of my life, I use it to do everything.

Does it sound familiar?

Stop for a moment. All those activities aren’t purely wrong. So what’s the point?

The problem is that using digital devices affects our lives without us knowing. It makes us distracted during working hours, after work, it prevents us from recharging, and it makes us fritter away the time in which we could travel. So instead of leading a fabulous digital nomad lifestyle, fulfilled with adventures and work satisfaction, we end up constantly tired and fatigued without knowing why. There can be many reasons, but here’s a partial response: technology.

It looks like I’m sharing my personal story, but I’m not alone in my struggles. Having trouble shutting down after the workday harms productivity for nearly a third of digital nomads. Inability to unplug from work is their primary challenge. My friend, Michał from the Travel Stories blog, shared with me that he feels the same. When you work remotely, especially as a digital nomad, logging out from your daily tasks is easy, but just on paper. In practice, it’s way more complicated. You can quickly get into a trap of “I have time to do it”. If you don’t set yourself strict working habits and etiquette, you can easily spend the whole day working or thinking about it.

And yes, you can partially blame technology for that effect. Or rather, our lack of healthy technology habits.

The problem with technology is that we invented it without knowing how to use it properly. Technological advancements have accelerated, but we have no idea how to adapt to those changes. So the human race got out of the race.

Do you know how innovative ideas are born? When your mind wanders. A free mind walk explores your thoughts and allows your outlying ideas to converge. So now imagine your thoughts are going closer and closer to each other, and you are a step away from a breakthrough, and…a new message disrupts you.

Yes, one of the main problems of extensive use of digital devices is keeping the mind occupied. According to statistics, we check our phones 63 times a day. 63 times a day we break our minds’ free flow. It doesn’t matter how long it takes — every time we pay the debt of switching our attention. At the same time, our brains need to wander without interruption to activate their default mode so we can look inward and think creatively.

Also, “smartphone breaks” destroy our productivity during working hours. We believe that checking our phones during a break is an excellent way to relax, but it isn’t true; studies show that it affects our problem-solving abilities. In other words, by checking smartphones at work, you not only restrain innovative solutions but also perform worse in your daily tasks.

From my experience, it’s easier to give in to digital devices breaks while working remotely. No one watches, no one judges. But personally, it makes me regret that I use my working time inefficiently. So, after work, I feel down. What can make me feel better?

Unfortunately, also smartphones.

It’s not a joke: our minds see smartphones as an endless source of joy. In short, a brain produces neurotransmitters called dopamine during every gratifying activity, such as eating a delicious meal, having sex, and – most importantly – socializing. Since we use smartphones to interact with others, our brain reveals dopamine every time we use our phones, and it links digital devices — not just online chats — with desired pleasure. So, it may happen that you scroll on social media to provide yourself with neurobiological satisfaction, but you are not even aware of that. Then, you feel guilty because you wasted your time, so you look for a dopamine shot again. A vicious cycle. What is the result? You can’t fully enjoy your free time after work. Rather than experience the wonderful place you’re living in, you experience other locations virtually. And it’s a no-brainer to say that’s not as rewarding as real-life adventures.

Digital nomads, against their title, want to live in the non-digital world. There’s only one solution: to get unplugged. It’s difficult on the road, where life and work are intertwined, so I’d like to share some tried and true life hacks for a start.

Track Your Patterns

Some people tend to scroll endlessly when they feel fatigued after work, wasting their afternoon time. Others struggle with using smartphones just before bed, so they can’t fall asleep. Finally, some check their mobile numerous times per day, staying constantly distracted. What merges all those groups is that people do it unconsciously. So getting unplugged starts like making any other habit change – identifying a problem.

Limit Your Time

If you could decide, would you dedicate an hour of your free time to watching YouTube or Instagram? It’s all right if the answer is “yes!” However, if you dreamed of a digital nomad lifestyle to travel the world, I suppose you would prefer to spend your free time exploring. Time limitations help avoid time wastage. It is possible to set limits by using specific apps, so you will be noticed every time you go over your boundary.

Hide Digital Devices

No joke. In Poland, we have a saying, “what eyes don’t see, the heart doesn’t regret.” If you don’t have digital devices at your fingertips, you won’t use them. Could there be an easier solution? Studies show that the mere presence of smartphones makes us distracted, so better focus is an additional benefit of leaving your phone in another room.

Plan Your Tech Time

As mentioned, technology itself isn’t bad. The problem lies in our inability to properly use it. Well, instead of avoiding using tech for the whole day, it may be better to plan a time when you are entirely devoted to it. As a result, you will be able to postpone all digital activities to that scheduled time rather than do them all the day long. Less unnecessary mobile checking equals a longer attention span!

Last but not least, be patient because changes take some time. Just because I share my tips with you, it doesn’t mean I practice them successfully every day! I’m still on the road, not only with my life but also with my healthy technology habits. However, day by day, month by month, I can see the rewarding results, so I’m convinced it’s worth it.

Before, I couldn’t fully enjoy my digital nomad lifestyle. During working hours, I was thinking about what to do later; after work, I felt guilty I wasn’t productive enough. I felt constantly distracted and regretful. However, some healthy digital habits relieved me because I became aware of my practices so I could work on them. Now I work more efficiently, and my travels are more enjoyable, but most importantly, I feel I am following my path. And I wish you all the same.