Digital Detoxing for the Work-from-home Lawyer

In the age of COVID-19, we have struck an uneasy balance with being work-from-home pioneers. We’ve figured out a lot about how to be productive, how to manage relationships with clients and coworkers, and how to get court cases moving along when we can’t actually be in the courtroom. 

While technology lets us do all of these things, there are downsides to always being online. For legal professionals working from home, it’s easy to feel like you’re never really getting away from your job. Even if you have a separate room as an office, there’s only so much of a shift going from there to your living room – especially when your computer and inbox are just an arm’s reach away. 

For the sake of your mental health, it’s important to find time to unwind and really step away from your job (even if you can only go so far.) Here’s where you can start:

Monitor your time

As with many endeavors, knowing the lay of the land before throwing yourself into solutions makes a big difference in how successful you’ll be. To this end, starting with a digital use audit is helpful. 

Most people don’t actually know how much time they spend on their screens. And when asked, we often underestimate it. It’s not hard to find out, though. There are a number of apps that will help you assess how much time you spend on your device and where it’s spent. Some popular options include:

  • Moment
  • StayFree
  • Apple’s Screen Time

Once you’ve done an audit of this, look at where your time is most commonly spent. 

Are you logging too many hours on Twitter? Devoted your evenings to Animal Crossing? Tracking your stocks on Betterment? Knowledge is power here. 

Then what?

Once you know, it’s up to you to determine how much value you get. Some time on your device may be inevitable. For example, if you’re running your firm’s Twitter account, you have to spend time there. 

But your firm probably isn’t on Animal Crossing. While we begrudge no person their digital escapism, if you’re looking for a detox, consider setting the phone aside in favor of another hobby in the evenings. 

Manage your notifications

Manage your notifications to achieve better digital balance in your life. Notifications can be useful, essential even. Knowing when a critical piece of communication has arrived can help you serve your clients better and manage your projects efficiently. But they can also be a major distraction if they’re not carefully curated. 

Have a technology agreement with your household

Our technology use doesn’t exist in a vacuum – we influence, and are influenced by, those we spend time with. If you share a living space with family, it can be helpful to set shared expectations for how you’re all using your screens at home. 

Each family should decide what makes sense for them. For example, if you’re in the middle of negotiations or a big case, then you may need to allow flexibility. But there are lots of ideas for how you can set technology boundaries for your family including:

  • Schedule times for technology use
  • Screen time limits for non-work or -school-related use
  • Tech-free meals
  • Only one screen at a time (that means no writing while watching old Friends episodes and scrolling through Facebook)

Then what?

Make sure you follow your ground rules. No one likes being the sole enforcer, so make it a joint effort. Make it fun(ish) by adding a donation jar, like a contemporary version of a swear jar. If someone breaks the rules, add a dollar!

Make sure your technology use sparks joy

This is especially useful for social media usage. While social media has been a meaningful social outlet in the COVID-19 era, providing us with connection, commiseration, and community, it can also be a source of negative emotions

When you do your digital detox audit, take the time to evaluate your relationship with your social channels. 

  • Which activities do you need to do?
  • What do you enjoy doing?
  • What non-essential digital activities bring you stress, sadness, or other negative emotions?

If you don’t enjoy it, delete the app! Life’s too short to be bogged down by social media envy or negativity. 

When all else fails, bring in the big guns

If you can’t muster up the willpower to manage your time yourself, there are apps you can download to force you to restrict your device usage. 

There are plenty of options to choose from, but a few tried-and-true favorites include:

  • Freedom (iOs and Android): Freedom works on your phone as well as your desktop or laptop, letting you block internet access and apps that are time sinks while letting you still access the ones that you need.
  • BreakFree (iOs and Android): Disable internet, reject phone calls, and send auto-responses to texts with this app.
  • AntiSocial (Android only): Really struggling? Enlist a trusted friend or family member to set limits and help manage your usage with AntiSocial. 

If you’re feeling codependent on technology right now, you’re not alone; we all are to some degree. But if you feel unhappy with the role it plays in your life, there are a lot of useful tools to help you manage usage. With a little strategy, you can still make the most of it.


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