Turn on, Tune In, Drop Out

Timothy Leary uttered the counter-culture era phrase in 1966 “Turn On, Tune in, Drop Out”. He explained in his autobiography “turn on” means to become more sensitive to your consciousness, “tune in” means to interact with the world around you and “drop out” suggested self-reliance. In the Information Age this advice is just as sound, as we carry access to the world and all its distractions in the palm of our hand. We are bombarded with news, communications, and distractions.  Lawyers are encouraged and may even feel obliged to be always available, always working. But the badge of honor for working long hours has tarnished. The report from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being shows lawyers and law students experience chronic stress and high rates of depression and substance abuse. Is it time for a digital detox?

In the session “Time for a Digital Detox” at the ABA TECHSHOW 2019 Sharon Nelson and Roberta Tepper offered advice on how to re-center and make time for introspection and deep thought. Why? Because constant engagement with technology contributes to feelings of stress and anxiety.  Real time communications and notifications, the fear of missing out (FOMO) and the need to be “always on” all may make you feel like you are under attack. So, how to turn it off and take a break? Or better yet, permanently alter your behavior to more effectively deal with the pressures?

First, give yourself permission to relax and disconnect. Then find ways to reinforce this behavior by reducing the distractions and triggers that keep you in a constant fight or flight state. Your computer and smart phone contribute to the noise and distraction. There are ways to reduce or eliminate this source of stress.


Whether on the computer or the smart phone, notifications trigger a Pavlovian response. With a bombardment of alerts you may feel the need to react and respond, which distract you from prioritizing and concentrating on tasks at hand. There are time management methodologies, such as the Pomodoro Technique, designed to help you be more productive. To start you will need to reduce notifications. You can turn off auditory and visual notifications for email, social media and chat tools while getting work done. Even small steps like these may help, but for awhile you may feel a sense of panic when you discover all the messages you’ve “ignored”. The best advice is to schedule a time to check messages. By always responding immediately you are creating unrealistic expectations.

Take advantage of email auto-responses. You can use the Automatic Replies in MS Outlook or the Vacation Responder in Gmail to alert people you aren’t available and give them some options to get immediate assistance, whether that is booking a consultation through an automated system like Calendly or Bookings or directing them to an assistant. Automatic Replies are much more sophisticated now, with options to automatically start and stop the responses on certain dates and times and choose different messages for inside and outside the firm. Voicemail can also be used to direct callers to alternative communication methods or better times to call.

You can also set up “Do Not Disturb” in Slack, Teams, and other communication channels by adjusting your settings, or even set up Quiet Hours so you do not receive notifications during certain hours.  To silence notifications for social media accounts you can adjust the settings for each app.

If you don’t want to have to go into each app on your phone, plus turn off text notifications and calls, the iPhone has a “do not disturb” feature that also let’s you apply the setting on a schedule and choose to receive calls from certain people. Android phones have a similar feature, as do Windows 10 with Focus Assist and the macOS.


In addition to controlling email and push notifications and setting automatic responses, the bright screens on mobile devices themselves cause digital eye strain and negatively affect our circadian rhythms. It is much harder to concentrate and be productive without adequate sleep and blurry, irritated eyes.  In response to these potential health issues most devices now let you turn off the blue light, including Windows 10, MacOS, iPhone and Android. Additionally, many applications and operating systems now let you enable “dark mode”. Dark mode reverses the color scheme so that you have a dark background with white text, which is supposed to help reduce eye strain. An added benefit is that dark mode also helps your smart phone’s battery last longer. Whether or not you apply these settings you should start reducing screen time at least an hour before bedtime and resist the urge to take your phone into the bedroom if you want to get a good night’s sleep. Yes, they still make alarm clocks.


While many apps add to your stress there are now many on the market that are designed to help you reduce distractions, participate in guided meditation and much more.

Calmsound – stream albums of looping ocean sounds, nature sounds, rain sounds and more via iTunes, Spotify, Google Play and Amazon. Pick your favorites by going the website and previewing the albums.  If you need to relax your eyes or get help with meditation, they also have lovely videos to go along with the sounds.

QualityTime – track just how much you use your phone and then set limits for specific apps. There is a “Take a Break” feature that lets you enforce a digital detox. The app integrated with the automation tool IFTTT that will connect QualityTime with other apps to create accountability, like blinking your Philips Hue smart lightbulb when you have been using your phone beyond the usage you set up. Android only.

Forest – Available for iOS and Android (plus a Chrome Extension), Forest encourages you to plant a virtual tree when you need to focus. Set a timer in Forest and plant your tree. Once you leave the app the tree dies. There is an exceptions list you can add to Forest so use of certain apps won’t kill your tree.

Calm – an app that acts as a coach to help with meditation and sleep. The app provides guided meditations, video lessons on mindful movement and stretching, music and even soothing bedtime stories. There is a 7 day trial and the annual cost is $60. Available on Android and iOS.


There are many more apps, plus tips for other ways to reduce digital dependency and improve your well-being. Interested in learning more? The theme of the 2019 North Carolina Bar Association’s Annual Meeting is Wellness, with 2 hours of  instruction and advice from nationally recognized experts. And, of course, there will be plenty of time dedicated to networking, relaxing and enjoying the beauty of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. Registration closes on June 14 and the event starts June 20.

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