What Would a Digital Dial-Back Look Like for You?


I recently hosted a Digital Dial-Back Challenge. For two weeks participants chose a form of technology they wanted to assess and potentially reduce their use of. This was not a detox. Instead, by creating a plan including strategies and "alternative actions", participants found increased opportunities to be aware of their habits and make purposeful decisions about when they would or would not use the technology.

At the kick-off meeting for the challenge, I asked people to keep a tally of how many times they reached for their phones or at least had the urge to. The average person tallied 5 times in about 40 minutes. I’m sure some tallied more than reported but they didn’t want to hurt my feelings. I didn't take it personally, it’s habit.

If you want to try a little challenge of your own, here are some things I encourage you to consider.


Take a step back and consider these questions...really thoughtfully consider.

For a chosen technology use (phone, television, video games, computer etc.):

Why do you use it?
How does each individual use benefit you both in the immediate and in the long-term future?
How does your use align to your values in life, to the things that are important to you?
Who does it connect you to?
Who does it disconnect you from?


Next consider strategies you’d like to try. The strategies are meant to put you in the position to make a mindful decision of whether or not you want to use your technology at a given time. So often we use out of habit, we aren’t stopping to ask ourselves if we actually want to. Perhaps the answer is yes, which is fine, but when we are aware of the times we say "yes", then we can also assess how we feel after use.

Decrease ease of access. If you have to take those few extra steps or actions to access the technology, this gives you more time to consider what you want to be doing. This might look like:

  • Leaving your phone in your bag or in a drawer
  • Putting the remote control away in a drawer
  • Unplugging and putting away your video game console after every use
  • Turning your computer off after every use rather than leaving on or putting into sleep mode

Other strategies:

  • Not using your phone while you walk
  • Not using your phone at stoplights
  • Changing your text ring tone so you can differentiate between messengers. My husband has a separate text-tone as his are texts I’d likely want to respond to right away. An unintended benefit of this strategy is that I now associate that tone with him and it makes me happy when I hear it.
  • Complete an “unfollow” assessment. Look through who you follow on all forms of social media. See how many people/things you can stop following because you don’t really need daily updates on them. You can still make the extra clicks to view their information if needed. You may find you spend less time because there are less updates to scroll through.

Alternative Actions

Another way to put yourself in a place to make a conscious decision about your use is to have pre-planned Alternative Actions. These are things you can do to either delay or replace your chosen form of technology use.

Short Alternative Actions

Short actions are meant for those times when you have maybe 1-10 minutes to spare; think waiting for an appointment at the doctor’s office. As soon as you sit down your first inclination may be to whip out your phone. Instead, complete a short alternative action, and then after decide whether you want to do something else, or proceed with use.

Short action ideas:

  • Take five deep breaths
  • Do three stretches
  • Put away three things
  • Think of three things you are grateful for
  • List three things you notice (see, hear, touch)

These are all very general but you can come up with ideas more specific to you.

Long Alternative Actions

Long actions are meant for free time of 10 minutes or more.
Example: You want to turn on the television. Instead, you set a timer for 20 minutes and sit down with a book/magazine to read. When 20 minutes is up, you may want to continue reading or do something else. You may also want to still watch television, which is fine, at the very least you read for 20 minutes and then made a purposeful decision of what to do next.

Long action ideas:

  • Go for a short walk outside
  • Play with a pet
  • Call a friend
  • Write in a journal
  • Set a timer for 30 minutes and clean – stop when timer goes off
  • Take a nap or go to bed early

You can come up with longer actions that are again more specific to your own interests and situation.

Is there a strategy that you can try for the next week? Are there two or three short and long alternative actions you can try? Making a physical list can serve as a visual cue or reminder. It can also help to think of this as a short term experiment rather than a large commitment. Play around with the strategies and actions to see what works for you each week.

If you're an employee or family member interested in talking more about technology use and strategies, please reach out to me, let's talk!

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About Author

Katie Seavey Pegoraro

Sr Associate Work Life Program Manager

Katie Seavey Pegoraro supports employees with issues of stress and balance, providing tools and resources to cope when life feels overwhelming. Katie is a contact for those who may be coping with issues of mental health, substance use, or grief and loss. A young professional herself, Katie is a unique support to employees who are navigating the many life transitions that occur in your 20's and 30's.

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