A few days before I started my job anchoring a business show on Bloomberg, my boss set up a video conference with the rest of the team in San Francisco. During the call, I began frantically typing an email on my phone. I wanted the team to see just how hard I was working and how seriously I was taking this job. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my boss get on his phone. “See!” I thought. “We know what we need to do to get ahead. He gets me!” And just then, another email came through! I tapped on it immediately. It was a one-line message — from my boss: “Pay attention, Lapin. Get off your phone.”
My intention wasn’t to come across as a bad team player or disrespectful. Quite the contrary, I was working for the team and wanted them to know it. But what I would come to realize is that working for the team and working with the team are two different things. Being distracted and unprofessional is only one of the ways your phone saps your superpowers. If you want others to respect your valuable time, you must pay them the same consideration. That means being present in meetings and actively listening to those around you, not mindlessly nodding over the top of your screen.
Of course, no one is going back to conducting business over snail mail any time soon, so we have to be able to use it but not abuse it, or let it abuse us. For me, a detox was the best way to reset my relationship with my phone. Sound hard? It was, but it ultimately saved my career. Here’s how I did it, it and how it helped me (and can help you).
Going Cold Turkey.
Knowing that I would never be able to fully disconnect if I remained in the city, with all of its easy distractions and endless barrage of screens, I opted for a full-on wilderness retreat. So, there I was, in a cabin. With a shared bathroom. Basically glamping. With no phone. No emails to check. No texts. No camera. No apps. Nada. And even if I had managed to sneak in a phone, there was no cell service. The first day was like coming off drugs — withdrawal to the max. Total separation anxiety. I was going on hikes with beautiful views that were just begging to be Instagrammed, and I had no way of even taking a photo. But each day, it got a little easier, and by the end, it was downright liberating. As I came down from my digital high, I observed some big changes in myself.
Appreciating the World Outside My Screen.
The first thing I noticed was that I was more conscious of the world around me, which I would have missed with a phone basically sutured to my hand. As I walked through the woods, I took in the various plants and shrubs and the differences in the texture of their leaves. I marveled at the different shades of wood in the paneling that lined my room. My senses were heightened in everything I did, from tying my shoes to watching a sunset that could only be captured with my eyes and memory.
The next thing I noticed was that I felt more alert at 6 a.m. than I usually did at 8 a.m. after two cups of coffee. Waking up to watch the sunrise was glorious and easy because I had less trouble falling asleep. There was no phone light beaming into my eyeballs before bed, ruining the natural darkness (and my eyes). Instead, I read or simply fell right to sleep after a full, rich, adventurous day.
Being More Present.
Finally, I noticed how present I was with everyone I talked to. I was more engaged in the stories they told. I remembered little details about each person I met and what we’d talked about in a way I never had before. I was even able to confront a few tough conversations, straight-on and in person (like with one, um, married guy who would not take a hint that I was not interested in a romp in the woods), squashing conflict way faster than a barrage of texts would have.
Sure, these were all simple things I could have worked on before taking a digital time-out, but I never thought I needed to. I didn’t even think to think about it. It took a week without my phone for me to really start looking outward at the world with fresh eyes and inward at the things about myself that I’d completely lost sight of.
A version of this article was originally published on Entrepreneur.