Digital Sabbatical - Reflections on 31 Days of Being Offline
Last month I wrote about my intention to take the entire month of July off from the internet. It wasn’t a vacation but a change in routine—a break in the daily habits that have accumulated, mostly unconsciously over the years of being online.
I had plenty of reasons to do it, but in all honesty, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to. I’m glad to say that I did it and will do it again.
Here is what I did and how it turned out.
From plan to action: what I did/didn’t do
The day before I started
I tried to make my preparation as simple as possible. Here are the main things I did:
- Notifying people: I added a note on the blog, on facebook and twitter that I wouldn’t be available. This solidified the intention.
- Downloaded financial information I needed to work with to minimize the need for online access.
- Removed shortcuts to browsers. If I need to start the browser, I’d need to go look for the program and start it. This will give me enough time to think about why I want to do it.
- Put all the stuff that I want to work on in one folder and moved everything else out of my sight. This way I focused on the important things.
- Cleaned out my email and said goodbye (to self). I emptied my inbox and responded to important messages.
I was going to block access to certain sites, but decided against it. I didn’t want to go through the trouble until I was tempted. I wasn’t.
The first day
I woke up as usual and started my routine. I knew I wasn’t going online. It felt weird in the beginning, like something was missing. But after a few hours, I felt relieved and started realizing the space around me—both physically and mentally.
I decided to take it further and delegated checking email to my partner. She agreed to do it each Friday and let me know if anything required my attention. Nothing major happened.
The days after
From one day to the other, I started feeling more and more at ease with the idea. As the days went by, I started losing interest and felt less of a need to be online.
While I didn’t disable my internet access, I didn’t use it. I turned my computer into a typing machine and a giant calculator (using Excel mostly). I used the iPad as an eBook reader.
The final few days
Around the 25th or so, I started feeling anxious. I was in countdown mode. Part of me wanted to go back to my normal routine and the other part was apprehensive—I wanted to avoid the stress of being online.
To deal with my anxiety, I created a mind map of all the things I would like to do on the first week as I ease back into the digital world.
I caught myself a couple of times asking my partner to check useless things for me. After a few puzzled looks from her, I realized that I wanted to surf the net by proxy. So I stopped asking. :)
I accessed the internet for a total of 13 minutes, once to pay bills and the other to deal with a credit card renewal issue. That was it.
What I did with my time
I didn’t write an eBook or produce a piece of music but I moved in the right direction. Things usually take more time than anticipated. Here is what I did:
- Spent more time on music (increased time by 300%).
- Cut my writing time by more than 40%. I wrote the same number of posts but in less time because I didn’t go online to research and look for images and ideas. I just relied on what I had.
- Spent more than 25 hours learning new skills (music and accelerative learning).
- Physically moved 47% more than the previous month.
- On the occasional sunny days, I lounged in the sun and looked at the sky chasing clouds and listening to music. I called this space my little piece of heaven.
- Watched classical movies and read books (paper & digital).
- Took a nap when I felt tired, instead of mindless browsing.
What I missed the most
Funny enough I thought I’d miss twitter but I didn’t. What I missed the most was searching. Just following that urge to click and find out what I wanted to know right there and then.
Revelations and observations
By disconnecting, I was able to gain more understanding of my thoughts and behavior. My findings are summed up below.
I felt more space around me. I felt more emptiness—not in a negative way but more in a relaxed sense. I felt I had room to breathe and be more at ease.
Time slowed down
The days felt longer than usual. For the first time in so long I felt that my day didn’t just fly by. I loved the feeling. I had more time to do what I wanted to do or to just be.
When it comes to social media, ignorance is bliss.
I didn’t miss being on twitter or facebook at all. I thought about some of my friends but most of the people I missed are the ones I interact with through blogs, email, or personal friendship.
For me, it felt like exposure to the constant stream created more craving and anxiety to know more.
I gained a new perspective about social media. We don’t see our friends or talk to them every single day and/or more than once per day. So why do it online.
What I missed most is feeding my impulse to click and find out whatever comes to mind—a word, a person, a movie and so on. In the past, whenever I had a question, I zipped over to Google and started searching.
Now I realize that most of the stuff I’m searching for is not important. Within minutes of thinking about something, I let it go and moved on to the next thing.
Moving forward: doing things differently
I’m going to make the best of the findings above and use them to gain more understanding of my thoughts and behavior. I hope you find them useful.
Awareness of feeling
This is the most important thing. If I feel uneasy, stressed or anxious in the slightest, I’ll stop and instead of going through the motion, I’m going to think about what I’m doing. If I can’t come up with a benefit, I’ll change direction.
Dealing with urges
Whenever I’m hit by mindless curiosity, I’m going to write down what I’m searching for. At the end of the day, I’ll look at the list and see if I still need answers. In all likelihood, most of the stuff will be unimportant.
With time, I’m hoping to be able to dismiss the desire as it comes up without the need to consider it later.
Time boxing social media and leisurely surfing
I will allocate 15 minutes to twitter a day. I’ll check facebook once a week. This will cut down on the need to know more.
If there is something I want to check online, I’ll set a timer up to 15 minutes and stick to it—and no repeats, just once a day, max.
Focusing on purpose
Before getting online or doing anything else, I’m learning more and more to clearly state my purpose. It helps to answer these questions:
- How important is this thing? Will it matter in a week, month or year?
- Is this something that I’m going to use?
- How much time am I willing to spend on it?
Answering the above questions will help you in determining what’s important to you. With practice, you can spend more time on what matters and less time on distractions.
Being online is a wonderful thing if we can do it with awareness and purpose. Otherwise, it becomes very easy to slip into mindless and stressful distractions that turn into excessive habits over time.
I hope what I’ve shared gives you some insight on how to deal with your online activities. I highly recommend that you try to vary your routine.
If you take a break, you will gain perspective, have more time and space to do what matters, and most importantly have more peace in your life.