How to Unplug: Setting Boundaries With Your Devices

How to Unplug: Setting Boundaries With Your Devices

November 11, 2019 by

Have you tried unplugging it and plugging it back in?

How many of you have heard that piece of advice from some customer service representative on the other end of a phone? Most recently for us, we got that question again and again when our internet kept going out at the house. We knew the problem wasn’t inside our house. But every time we called, that was step one of fixing the problem. In that case, we were frustrated mainly because unplugging did us no good every time we tried it.

That being said, sometimes unplugging is the best course of action. I’ve worked in some form of digital ministry for close to a decade now, and I love that work. I love social media; some of my best friends are primarily online friends. Every so often, though, I find that I need to unplug from all that—usually for no longer than a day, but sometimes longer.

Why It’s Important to Unplug

For me, one of the issues with social media is that my personal and professional lives are highly intertwined on social media. Notifications for my church’s social media hit my phone, and I’m the staff person who oversees them. Also, I’m connected all over social media with my parishioners. When I’m on vacation, it can be hard to disconnect, especially if I see a pastoral concern posted somewhere. My phone makes it too easy for me just to check something “really quickly”—and that “really quick” check can then turn into full-on interaction with church business.

Yet it’s also important for me—for any church leader—to have time away from church business and from pastoral concerns. I need time away to “let my brain deflate,” as I call it. I need time to realize that I’m not indispensable. I need time to remember that I’m not always in control. Unplugging for a day (or so) helps to hit an inner reset button, giving my brain and heart a rest from the bombardment of information that social media has become.

Four Ways to Unplug

How to unplug? Here are four tactics I’ve tried that work for me:

  1. Don’t look! If I still want to use social media—like, for example, I’m on vacation and want to share pics—I discipline myself not to pay attention to the church’s social media. I absolutely stay away from post metrics and I schedule posts ahead of time if something needs to hit social media while I’m gone. Before I leave, I make sure other staff members are keeping an eye out for important messages, and trust them to handle whatever may arise.
  2. Do Not Disturb. Sometimes I need a stronger unplug. At those times, I leave my phone in another room. I use the Do Not Disturb feature on my devices almost every night and at other times when I truly need to focus or unplug. (I set up this feature so the most important people in my personal and professional lives can still reach me in case of emergency.)
  3. Try Saying No. If I have to keep my phone near me for some reason, I put a post-it note on it with a one-word reminder: “NO!” and I keep the phone face down. This note is like a little stop sign for myself.
  4. Be Present. If I’m unplugged, I allow myself to be present to where I am and what I’m doing. If I’m binging on Netflix, I do that. If I’m reading a book, I do that. If I’m working on a sermon or my thesis, I’m focused on that. Keeping my attention focused in one place is less draining mentally and—if I’m unplugged in order to work—helps me be more productive.

If the idea of unplugging for a whole day makes you feel antsy or anxious, try one of the above for a few hours at first—maybe a morning or an afternoon. (You can even set a timer to remind yourself to plug back in!) I hope you’ll discover that taking a break is not only OK, but helpful and even restorative!

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For more help with taking care of yourself, check out some of the resources from our Courageous Storytellers membership site.

Post By:

Kathi Johnson


The Rev. Kathi Johnson is associate pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas, where her ministry focuses on worship planning and social media. As part of her doctoral work, Kathi is also the developer and curator of the online ministry, Digital Gathering.
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