How We Unplugged and Rediscovered a 1970s Family Weekend – Part 1

As Productivity Ninjas we often talk with people about how technology is impacting their productivity and wellbeing. Email’s overwhelming and distracting us; our mobiles have demolished previous precious boundaries between ‘on’ and ‘off duty’. People are looking for help, and in our time management workshops we share weapon-savvy and human-not-superhero inspired tactics to redress that balance.

But recently I’ve been hearing and thinking more about how tech’s affecting the younger people in our lives who haven’t even entered the workplace yet.  It’s changed them, and how we’re interacting as families. If you’ve observed parents and children in a restaurant, with their heads in their smartphones, seen the same in the local play park, or fretted about how long your child is spending on their tablet – perhaps you’ve been pondering along similar lines.


Obsessive Emails Checking


When I was my daughter’s age (she’s nearly 9) it was the late 1970s.

The phone (there was only one) lived in the hall, connected to the wall by wire. Just 3 TV channels.  Kid’s TV was on for an hour or so a night – and a couple of hours on Saturday. No ‘on demand’ iPlayer smorgasbord for me.  No YouTube. I had the Beano, and LEGO.  My bike, and the local woods. If I wanted to find something out, it was a trip to the library, not instant info on Wikipedia. No Google Maps in your pocket.  Travelling?  You had to plan ahead and shop (in a bookshop, no Amazon) for the appropriate AtoZ.


Now before you think I’m a fusty luddite, I *love* tech.

I can’t get enough of it.  But I’m also beginning to wonder if too much of the new means we’ve been forgetting how to enjoy the simple pleasures of the old. In particular, in our own family we’d observed that more of our precious Saturdays and Sundays were taken up by a phenomenon that’s been called ‘alone together’.

Our faces are in our tech, rather than properly being with each other – never mind getting out into the world, and having the amount and type of old-school adventures I was having when I was 9. We weren’t completely silent indoor internet drones by any means, but we did need a course correction. It’s not like we’d planned it.  It’d just snuck up on us.  I expect it has on many of you too.


Screenfree Sunday


We decided to take action.

The Rubicon moment came last November in the car park of a National Trust property where we’d just had a great ‘offline’ day. My wife, musing on how good it had been to get out as a family, said hesitantly “errr maybe we could go ‘unplugged’ one day a week, and just do all the stuff we used to do?”.

It took me about 3 seconds to buy in (spoiler alert – our daughter took longer!), and in that moment our ‘Screen Free Sundays’ were born. Ironically (but also as an accountability thing –honest) I found it necessary to immediately Tweet about our decision.


First we created some basic rules.

Nothing with a screen for the whole 24 hours.  Yes, really.

If we were going to expect our daughter to give this a go, my wife and I had to commit too, and lead by example.  That meant getting off our phones.  Twitter was my big thing, and Facebook/Messenger was hers.  Letting go of those was going to be hard.

For my daughter, it was going to be about getting off her tablet, and rediscovering her analogue ways of entertaining herself. Early big week 1 lesson was that raw willpower wasn’t going to cut it.  It was too easy to crack –  or even just forget!

The muscle memory of idly picking up your phone for a quick dose of the internets is very strongly ingrained.


We needed an assist.

After some quick research we both put the amazing OffTime app on our phones.

Productivity Ninja Tip:  You can set up various profiles to kick in automatically on a schedule, and lock away all the bad stuff so you can’t be tempted.  An emergency unlock is possible, but takes 15 minutes, by which time the urge has usually passed.  Big bonus for us was you can still leave your phone working *as a phone* (gasp) –  calls and texts still come through.  I left functions like Camera, Contacts and GoogleMaps active so we could use them when out and about on our new adventures. 

For the first few weeks we just hid the Kindle Fire.  Not that sophisticated I’ll admit – and led to too many arguments.  In the end we found a good tech assist for that with ScreenLimit.

Productivity Ninja TipCompatible on all the usual devices kids have.  As well as just locking stuff down – either completely or selectively – you get the added awesome power of remote control via an adult’s phone!   You can track and monitor use, limit to certain time windows, aggregate time used etc.  Can even give extra use as rewards for a tidy room etc. – cue lots of haggling, but a new desire to engage with some light-duty household chores.  Plus it doesn’t just have to be for kids, adults could use it on ourselves too!


So, we’d decided change was needed, made our commitment, created our rules, and prepped our tech.  In Part 2 of this post we’ll reveal what happened next – stay tuned!

By Lee Cottier
Lee is Think Productive’s Productivity Ninja for Wales and the South West of England. You can get in touch with Lee directly here.

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