Digital Detox for ADHD Brains: How to Limit Social Media, Texts

Q: “My husband, my high school senior, and I all have ADHD and are easily distracted. It’s super hard for us to untether from our electronic devices, and we lose track of time. For example, I’ll be working and start listening to music and find myself distracted by group texts or social media. Then I’m completely lost. My husband is always bingeing on Netflix. How can we make technology less of a distraction?” — HRF


In my coaching practice, I spend a lot of time discussing the internal triggers that drive us to get distracted. Boredom, environment, and even lack of movement all play an essential role in why we reach for our technology again and again.

The truth is that our electronic devices and social media are designed to keep us on them for as long as possible. They’re purposely designed for us to fall down that proverbial rabbit hole! It’s a recipe for disaster for those of us who are easily distracted in the first place.

I firmly believe that we don’t need oodles of willpower to fight temptations. We just need to remove those temptations from our environment. (This is why I don’t keep ice cream in my house!)

I’ve developed strategies to help adults and students set up their electronic devices in a way that discourages potential distractions. Remember, the more effort it takes or inconvenient it is to get distracted, the easier it will be to stay focused.

Here are 10 good ways to combat the “toll of the scroll” and engage in a digital detox.

Digital Detox Step #1: Lock It Up

When you need to be in deep flow to get work done, place your phone in a different room or lock it up in a drawer, closet, or box. My son taught me this trick! When he went to college, we purchased him a lock box for valuables, and he ended up using it to hide his phone when studying. It was literally the only way for him to detach and disengage from his phone. Out of sight, out of mind.

Digital Detox Step #2: Use Silence or Airplane Mode

Want to eliminate all the buzzing and binging of an active phone? Place it on silence or airplane mode and turn off all push notifications. Updating this simple setting for even a few hours every day will eliminate that immediate urge to hop on Instagram or TikTok. This is my #1 go-to. Turning off all the sounds allows me to forget my phone is even nearby.

Digital Detox Step #3: Hide Non-Essential Apps and Browser Tabs

Just as you would clear your physical workspace of paper or clutter; I suggest closing and hiding all non-essential apps and browser tabs on your phone or computer. This way, you only see what you are working on currently.

Digital Detox Step #4: Put It on the Last “Page”

Move your most distracting apps into a folder and place that on the last “page” of your home screen. This way, even if you look at your phone, you’re less tempted to open Instagram because it’s hidden away.

Digital Detox Step #5: Be Invisible

Mark yourself as invisible or as away so people know you’re not available.

Digital Detox Step #6: Remove Facial Recognition or Touch ID

My mantra for those with ADHD or focusing challenges is that if it takes more than two to three steps to do something, you’re less likely to do it. So remove facial recognition, or touch ID to open your phone. Having to enter a password each time you want to use a device works to eliminate the “toll of the scroll.”

Digital Detox Step #7: Download Music

Download your music to listen to offline and put your phone on airplane mode.

Digital Detox Step #8: Sign Out of Social Media

Instead of staying logged in, sign out of your social media accounts so you can’t jump back on at a moment’s notice. (Although this is simple, it’s been a game-changer for many of my clients.)

Digital Detox Step #9: Find a New Browser

Encourage your son to use a different internet browser for schoolwork and “entertainment.” Out of sight, out of mind!

Digital Detox Tip #10: Turn off Autoplay

Turn off the autoplay feature on Netflix! Streaming platforms default to this setting. If you must physically select your next binge episode, you’ll be more aware of how long you’ve been watching television.

It’s not easy to eliminate all the distractions from our electronic devices. But with a solid plan in place, you’ll at least be more aware of how much time you spend on them, which is a great first step!

Good Luck.

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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