The Importance of Going Offline
In my previous blog post I talked about the benefits of leading by example with good self-care practices for you and your team. Even more-so, it is important to intentionally schedule time to unplug completely. Disconnect from work, breathe, and reconnect with your family and your life: you can do it!
This month I am taking my family away on holiday for a week and a half… Half of the holiday is to visit family (my dad is turning 80) and half of the holiday is for us to disconnect from everyday life and rest.
We live in a technology-centric society. My son and I use computers and the internet to work and school remotely from home, my partner sits in front of a computer all day in the public service and my teenage daughter uses her laptop (and phone) all day at school as part of the curriculum.
I recently asked a primary school principal if she thought my son’s struggles with handwriting (he would make an excellent doctor one day) would set him back or put him at a disadvantage when he returns to the mainstream classroom. Much to my surprise, I was told that as long as he can type his handwriting difficulties will have little to no impact on his schooling.
My takeaway from all this?
Computers and mobile devices have become such an integral part of our society and culture that we need to learn how to live and work with them instead of against them.
That doesn’t mean we need to be at their mercy – who controls the on/off switch anyway?
Mind altering screens…
Now, we all know the ill effects of using our phones, tablet and computers at night. The blue light from these screens messes with our natural circadian rhythms by inhibiting melatonin production (the sleepy hormone) in the brain and making sleep that much more elusive. This is a pain for adults, a problem for children and a nightmare for teenagers! According to the National Sleep Foundation:
The blue light that’s emitted from these screens can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, increase alertness, and reset the body’s internal clock (or circadian rhythm ) to a later schedule. This is an especially big problem for teens whose circadian rhythms are already shifting naturally, causing them to feel awake later at night. The end result: sleep-deprived or poorly rested kids who have essentially given themselves a mini case of jet lag.
My most recent memory of Jetlag involves an early morning flight from Dubai and a six-hour layover in Melbourne airport waiting for our flight home to Hobart. I remember the oily smell of the transit lounge, the impossibly hard plastic seats and the feel of the rough, scratchy carpet through my clothes as I tried desperately to stretch out anywhere I could and get some sleep, any sleep! This was before I became aware of the magic of airport hotel day use rooms! Personally, this is not something I would wish on my worst enemy, let alone my precious children.
Always switched on…
When I worked in politics I got into the habit of not taking holidays. There was always an easy excuse, I couldn’t take time off during the parliamentary sitting schedule because I was needed in Canberra, I couldn’t take time off during the recess because I needed to monitor and troubleshoot the electorate tour. By the time I took maternity leave five years later I was heavily pregnant (just one week to go!), burnt out and exhausted. On the positive side I had enough time saved up to take six months paid leave following the birth of my daughter. On the negative side I never wanted to return.
One surprising side-effect of my maternity leave was the shock of instant disconnection. In my job I was the go-to person for – well everything! My day was spent co-ordinating, reacting and responding to a constant barrage of questions, phone calls, email and faxes. In a lot of ways, as an organiser and a do-er, I was in my element. I started my day watching breakfast news shows while getting ready for work. I would arrive in the office and rip through between two and five local and national newspapers before even turning on my computer. I had my finger on the pulse, knew which topics were hot and relevant and likely to turn into big issues.
The real problem…
Then suddenly I was at home. With a new baby. No phone calls. No fax machine. No newspapers. And only painfully slow dial-up internet. In hindsight I think – what the hell was my problem? That sounds like bliss! But at the time it was absolutely devastating. The culture shock was huge. I had become so disconnected from life outside of work that I didn’t know what to do with myself. My feelings of disconnection were made were made worse because I lived on a property outside town and, due to an emergency caesarean, I couldn’t drive for six weeks. Years of being ‘plugged in’ left me ill-prepared for the gaping silence that followed; I hadn’t realised how much I relied on digital technology to feel like me.
Looking back at this time is really insightful. Back then broadband internet was something you only had at work, our laptops were big, clunky and only really good for word processing, and our mobile phones had only advanced insofar as we could take calls, send text messages and, if you had a really high-end phone, digitise your diary. Disconnecting from the internet wasn’t the problem for me, disconnecting from work was.
Every year my partner and I go camping. Just the two of us, for a few days, or even a week, and we have a no-tech rule. I turn off my four email accounts and logout from social media. We take along 4kg of books (nothing beats the feel of real paper between your fingers) and just eat, sleep, read and walk. We do a similar thing on our family holidays and weekends away, although we are not quite as strict with social media, but for a period of days at least, I log out.
The funny thing is that at the end of these periods, always without fail, I experience an overwhelming reluctance to log back in to my digital life. Many times, I have found myself on a plane heading home and am suddenly engulfed with a deep sense of mourning loss because I promised myself I would log back in when we land and I just don’t want to.
There is a real sense of freedom in intentionally disconnecting. I perform all due diligence in letting people know I will be offline for a specified period, both personally and professionally, but during this time I feel no responsibility or obligation to respond to emails and messages. You don’t realise the toll that being always connected takes on your sense of calm and wellbeing until the pressure is removed. I mean let’s face our inboxes and apps are filling up with messages 24/7 and even if we only respond during business hours just the knowing that they are there can weigh on our minds.
Make the commitment to log out and take yourself offline for your next family holiday or weekend away. Schedule your social media, set an out of office reply (you can find a brilliant one here if you need inspiration) and if you feel the need, post a message in your personal accounts to let your friends and family know that you are not falling off the ends of the earth, just going offline.
Unapologetically taking time off is vital. However, if you are really worried about upsetting clients then employ a Virtual Assistant for a couple of hours each week to check and respond to urgent emails and messages.