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Personal Ecology

[#TBT] Work-Life Balance Tool: Intentional Airplane Mode

By August 4, 2016September 25th, 2019No Comments

Sharon led a webinar about this topic that is available forNonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) members. This post first appeared on the NTEN blog.

fog_rolling_in_over_sfI love being on planes because my beloved cell phone gets turned completely off, or put into “airplane mode.” I am rarely more than a foot away from my phone, so there’s something about airplane mode that I find liberating—not “having” to respond to anyone or anything. With my phone off, I can’t obsessively hit the sync button to check for new emails or texts. I feel free. I feel less anxiety. I feel less stress. I feel happier.

As I turned my phone back on after a recent trip, I asked myself, what would life be like with my phone in airplane mode? What if I turned my phone off when I got to work in the morning? What if I chose to leave my phone behind when I went to the grocery store or during my lunch break at work? What would happen if I (gasp!) left my phone at home for an entire day while I walked around the city?

I decided to experiment with being in airplane mode at work for a few weeks when I was feeling particularly stressed and anxious. Every morning as I walked into the office, I put my phone into airplane mode for the first two hours of the day, so I could fully focus and pay attention to whatever challenge or task I had in front of me. I noticed that I got more done, with less stress, and I felt like I had enough time to do everything I needed to accomplish.

How about you? A study last year showed that cell phone users check their phones an average of 150 times per day. When was the last time you intentionally turned off your phone for at least an hour? And sleeping doesn’t count—especially if you sleep with your phone next to your bed and check emails or texts in the middle of the night as they come in (or so I’ve heard).

I want to be clear: I’m not advocating getting rid of cell phones. I love my phone and the support it provides in my work and life. I’m talking about being aware of the cost of becoming so attached and connected to our phones that we forget what’s going on right in front of us. Constantly being “on” all the time can cause us to feel overwhelmed, stressed-out, and anxiety-driven. We can’t change the world if we’re burned out.

My belief is that the antidote to burnout begins with the practice of mindfulness: paying attention—without judgment—to what is happening right now. As the president of the nonprofit I work for recently wrote, “staying present in current time is an essential leadership skill.” One way that we can be more present is to go into airplane mode for at least an hour a day. I’ve outlined how to do this simple practice below. You could try it alone or with your team at work.

Work-Life Balance Tool: Intentional Airplane Mode

Intention: To improve your work-life balance by reducing stress and overwhelm caused by habitually checking your phone.

Duration: Try this practice for one hour every day for at least one week. If you can’t commit to one week, try it at least once and see what happens.


  1. Choose a one-hour time period to experiment. It’s best to choose a time when you feel particularly distracted by your phone and drawn to be with it rather than with whomever or whatever else needs your attention.
  2. During the hour, turn your phone completely off, or put it into airplane mode. Commit to this. Do not turn it back on until the hour is over.
  3. Practice mindfulness. Notice what is happening right there in your present moment experience. Don’t judge yourself, just notice: How many times do you reach for your phone out of habit? What feelings or thoughts come up? Devote all of your attention to whatever is in front of you: your work, your partner, your kids, a walk in your neighborhood, dinner with friends, a concert.
  4. At the end of the week, reflect on what you learned. Be gentle with yourself. The point is not perfection; it’s to notice what happens when your attention is free from your phone for one precious hour each day. You could journal about what came up for you, share your experience on Facebook, or talk about it over coffee with a friend or your team. I’d also love to hear about your experience in the comments of this post.

What becomes possible with your phone turned off? (click to tweet)

Image credit: fog rolling in over SF by Kierra Johnson

Rockwood Community Call

Kris Mereigh,  MPH, CWP.

public health and wellness strategist

June 27 | 12 PT / 3 ET