I recently took a vacation. This vacation did not include getting on a plane or packing up the car. As a matter of fact, the suitcase was never used. My vacation was a digital vacation. What is a digital vacation? Some may say it's unplugging, not checking email or staying off of all social networks. My digital vacation included completely closing the laptop and not opening it. On my phone, I removed certain apps and turned off every form of notification, including sounds, displays and counters. They only thing I would check for was phone calls, but had left messages saying people should only give me a call if it was an emergency. It basically became a 100 percent shut off of digital communication.
Force Of Habit
The first thing I realized on my digital vacation was the habit that I have when it comes to my digital addiction. I kept reaching to check my phone, even though it wasn't in my pocket, wasn't ringing or even vibrating. Every morning, I'd get out of the bedroom and walk over to the computer as if I was going to check for messages. Even standing near where my computer was, had me glancing over at it. If you've ever quit smoking, it is exactly what it felt like. You just had the urge (I'm not comparing the chemical addiction, but am convinced it is some form of addiction). When I finally started to adjust to changing that habit (thanks to my digital vacation), I began to see how much more focused I was.
Being focused on the screen shows how unfocused we really are. Focus comes when we don't have distractions. There were no alerts, tweets, emails or Facebook messages to distract me. It became apparent that all these notifications just created a fake sense of urgency. I found the quality of my work increased by remaining focused. I engaged in conversations with people, including: my wife, friends, the barista and even people passing by at stores. How often do you go out to eat and see an entire family sitting looking at their phones and not talking with each other, or even making eye contact with each other? I never even noticed until I didn't have my phone with me! Focus also provided me a chance to think about time.
Time became more present and was able to be managed when I was not distracted. Normally, I always felt like I lost track of time and often found myself saying, "How did it get to be 4pm already? I have so much to do still." During my digital vacation, I started becoming aware of time and planning to not only get tasks accomplished, but also to have some planned downtime. I never once felt like I was losing track of time during my digital vacation. I become more aware of it. Time provided something else too.
The Power Of Sleep
As someone who stays up writing posts, tweeting and Facebooking friends, and never wanting to go to bed with an unread email, I'd often stay up until 12:30 or 1 a.m. When I was on my digital vacation, I found myself going to bed around 10:30 or 11 p.m. Of course it helped that I didn't have to get up at 5:30 a.m., so I was getting a solid eight hours of sleep per day. It felt great! I woke up more refreshed than ever, I found myself not getting tired during the day. It helped me stay focused too!
Lessons Learned What changes have I made as a result of my digital vacation?
- I learned to limit the distractions. I deleted my Foursquare account. Now I don't take the time to check in at the places I go. And do you really care about where I am?
- For as hyper-connected as I am, when I became less connected, it produced more meaningful connections.
- Use the time I have with focus and purpose and realize I have the time, if I make the time.
- I leave my phone out of site, except when I actually need it. I don't need to carry it around with it glued to my hand. This helps me with time, engagement and focus.
- Sleep is important. I now make sure to get at least 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis.
- I've set limits. Now I set a time to check email, Twitter, Facebook, etc. I've also set time to talk to my wife and just read with no distractions.
- Respond, don't react.
A digital vacation is more than unplugging, it's recognizing your habits, both good and bad, learning from them and then making changes the will remain after the digital vacation is over.
What would your digital vacation look like?
For more by Tim Mcdonald, click here.
For more on unplugging and recharging, click here.