Everything You Need to Know About a Digital Sabbatical

by Tammy Strobel on July 21, 2010

I love hearing the tap, tap, tap of the keyboard in the early morning. Watching my written words flow onto the computer screen amazes me. I’m continually in awe of technology and how we can use it for good.

But I’ve also been wondering how much time we need to spend online.

For instance, think about your own behaviors. How many of you wake-up and check your email, twitter, or facebook stream, with a cup of coffee? Or have been on vacation and constantly stared at your glowing phone to check incoming messages? I’ve definitely been guilty of those bad behaviors.

So the idea of taking a digital sabbatical and teaching people how to connect more wisely has been on my mind recently. Especially, after reading Gwen Bell’s latest post and listening to this interview with William Powers.

What is a digital sabbatical? Dedicating one day a week or even a whole month away from the internet, email, twitter, and other online activities.

Taking an extended sabbatical is appealing to me. It would be one way to solely focus on writing my next ebook and to recharge my creative juices. Until I can take an extended break from the web, I’m planning on unplugging every weekend.

So that means my weekend plans will not include:

  • Surfing the web.
  • Checking email.
  • Updating twitter or facebook.
  • Moderating blog comments.

My weekend retreat plans include:

Being online less and outside more. A few of my top priorities include taking advantage of the beautiful summer weather, spending time with friends and family, focusing on writing amazing content, and reducing insecurity work.

So consider this guide as a reminder to go outside and enjoy the summer.

As you go through the tips below remember to:

  • Choose activities that look interesting.
  • Experiment and have fun. That’s the whole point right? Taking time off from the internet and social networks should free up plenty of time to engage in creative pursuits.
  • And don’t do everything at once!

21 Digital Sabbatical Ideas

1. Limit the amount of information you consume. Ideally, a digital sabbatical means you’ll be spending little to no time on the internet. If you incorporate 3 to 5 of the tips below, you should have plenty to keep you busy.

2. Cultivate your creative ideas. Start mind-mapping, writing, and thinking about how you want to implement your creative ideas.

3. Read a good book. A good book has the potential to change your life, career, and world view. So head to your local library and bring home a few dozen books.

4. Get your move on! Whether you work at home or in an office, it’s essential to move more and sit less.

5. Go bike camping. You don’t realize how much noise you’re surrounded by everyday, until you spend time in nature, and quietly pedal your way on open country roads.

6. Consider rising early to see the sun rise and hear the world wake up.

7. Eat real food and practice minimalist home cooking.

8. Simplify your finances. Think about starting to track your expenses, consolidating your accounts, and buying goods in cash.

9. Go for a walking meditation. Walking meditation is a beautiful practice and it is a practice found in both the Taoist and Buddhist traditions. It’s a beautiful way to calm the mind and raise your awareness be present and mindful of your experiences while you walk.

10. Spend time with your loved ones.

11. Start building community. Get out of your home and start volunteering peeps!

“The dividing line is between those who do something and those who do nothing.” ~Derrick Jensen

12. Learn to quiet your mind. Quieting the mind to focus on the important can be difficult. It’s so easy to get caught up in what we “should be” doing, rather than focusing on what brings us joy and happiness.

13. Declutter your home. Start small. Take 10 minutes out of your day and remove the clutter from one area of your house. Before you know it your junk drawer will be clean, then your closet, and eventually your whole house.

14. Keep a journal.

15. Embrace happiness.

16. Practice gratitude.

17. Connect with others.

“If we’re constantly toggling between people on Facebook and texts and all these new ways of connecting all day long, and we never have a sustained connection, it’s not really connectedness. It’s sort of the opposite of connectedness.” ~William Powers

18. Incorporate yoga and meditation into your routine.

19. If you can’t get away completely, leave your desk. And stop engaging in insecurity work.

20. Make time for a creative weekend.

21. Do less. Then, do even less.

“Practice not-doing and everything will fall into place.” – Lao Tzu

What would you add to the list?

1 Lisa July 21, 2010

Great list! I can’t think of a single thing to add.

2 Diane July 21, 2010

I always feel very energized after coming home from a vacation and I’m convinced that this is, in large part, due to not being online or viewing TV when I’m away. Of course, the other part of that energy comes from not being forced to sit nearly motionless for eight hours each day while working. ; )

3 Tammy July 21, 2010

@Diane – Ohhh I agree. Sitting for 8 hours a day is so hard on the body. For the last few months, I’ve been standing while I work and that has helped me stay energized throughout the day. :)

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

4 Anonymous July 23, 2010

I just took a trip and did this–for the most part. I only allowed myself a few minutes each night to check for pertinent emails via my phone which does not allow me to get attachmetns, etc. The fiirst couple of days I did not even turn on a TV or radio, but then realized I had to as there had been breaking news while I was away from it. It felt great to not be tied to my computer and to spend the time on other things.

However, I have an opposite idea from this for which I am searching a solution. I want to take a trip that is fullyt outlined online with blogs, social media, etcl because it is a very important trip to me and to others who will be on it. I would like to find a way to be paid to tell my sotry as it unfolds. Any ideas for that one?

5 Courtney Carver July 21, 2010

Tammy, Great ideas! I know my world completly changed when I stopped checking email first thing in the morning. I am going to start with a day off a week and work up to two per week! I love the challenge.

6 Tammy July 21, 2010

Thanks Courtney! Let me know how it goes… :)

7 Jack Bennett July 21, 2010

My recent Vipassana meditation course included a digital sabbatical free of charge :)

Many of your excellent points were also covered:
1. No books, no internet, no electronics aside from alarm clocks.
6. The bell rang at 0400!
7. Simple vegetarian food, cooked by volunteers.
11. We lived in a small monastic community. The catch was, we couldn’t talk to each other!
12, 15, 16, 18. No yoga, but how’s 10+ hours of meditation grab you? We meditated to develop wisdom (panna) and loving-kindness (metta).

Perhaps not exactly what you had in mind, but it definitely freed me from the clutches of the internet and Blackberry for a few days…

http://thirtytwothousanddays.com/blog/2010/07/how-to-reach-enlightenment-for-free-in-less-than-two-weeks-or-your-money-back/

8 Tammy July 21, 2010

@Jack – sounds like an interesting course. I’ll check out your website. :)

9 Jack Bennett July 22, 2010

Thanks Tammy. It was definitely a great experience. I think that prior to the course I was focusing on the “media fast” and, well, digital sabbatical aspects of it, but those turned out to be the easiest parts.

I don’t think I’d recommend it if that’s all someone were expecting out of it, but to get a meditation practice started or energized, it would definitely be the right thing! :)

10 Joys August 28, 2010

Did you come back full of loving – kindness?

11 Bankruptcy Benjamin July 21, 2010

I just went on a holiday to vanuatu and there’s no phone reception there, I was offline for 10 days. It was delightful. I really got a lot more done. and it really didn’t impact me at all. There was also no TV, it was amazing how much i reading I got through.

12 Kat Eden July 21, 2010

Have a nap! I did that this morning barely 2 hours after I got up and what a treat! Laptop still hasn’t gone on but I feel great!

13 Tammy July 22, 2010

Kat – I love that idea! Excellent. :)

14 Torea Rodriguez July 22, 2010

One thing that you could do while you are doing the digital sabbatical, is do something for yourself! Often times we spend all our time doing things for other people that we never find time to focus on our own needs. For me, its about pursuing my own passions. Take some time during a digital sabbatical to pursue something you have always wanted to. Do the research when you are connected, and then take your research learnings out into the world and try them on for a day or two!

15 Epa July 22, 2010

I’ll definitely agree, but you would have to come up with a printed version of this blog :D…

16 Tammy July 22, 2010

@Epa – LOL. Nahhh I can still write in my journal and then type up posts during the week. For now my digital sabbatical will be confined to Saturday and Sunday’s. :)

17 Aaron July 22, 2010

Great post. So many things you can do with extra time! I’ll be sure to use a few of those.

18 Lori Randall July 23, 2010

Fantastic post!!! Love your blog, too and have shared it on my Facebook Page for this afternoon. There’s nothing like getting away and reconnecting with your creative, awesome self! Too much digital goodness is just … too much! Crowds us.

19 Tammy July 23, 2010

Lori – Thanks for sharing my post on facebook. I appreciate it. :) And yes, too much of anything (the internet, TV, etc). can stifle creativity.

I’m looking forward to unplugging this weekend. Yay for bike camping!

All the best to you!

20 Laura P Thomas July 23, 2010

Although I called it a fast instead of a sabbatical, I recently took 8 days off of the internet and highly recommend it! My family really appreciated my focused attention. Since then, I’ve been trying to limit my time online every day, but am not doing as well with that – seems the all-or-nothing approach works best for me, so I like your idea of making it a regular thing. Thanks!

21 Tammy July 23, 2010

Hey Laura – thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.

An 8 day fast sounds so refreshing! Very cool! :)

22 Kimmoy July 23, 2010

Something I would like to add is consider attending a Seventh Day Adventist Church and surround yourself with people who do this as part of their lives and religious beliefs. Nothing like having real support right?

Oprah did a special on the longest living people around the world and SDAs were among the top because they took the time out to take a weekly Sabbath (where they let the worries of the work week behind and rested in the Lord from sunset to sunset)

23 andrew burden July 24, 2010

since february of this year i have practiced a weekly digital sabbath from saturday at bedtime until monday when i get up. my time is usually filled with worship, spending time with family, and often shopping (not such a creative outlet). i’ve also read quite a bit more books than i had been. this discipline has enriched the other days as well. even when i allow myself digital access, i find myself more able to put it aside and continue to engage in the things that i enjoy outside of the digital world. i have also started leaving my phone in the car whenever i go to a restaurant with my wife. that simple act communicates so much to her, that i value and can truly focus on her rather than my endless stream of digital distractions. thanks for your insights!

btw, i wrote an article published for youth pastors shortly after starting my own digital sabbath, but it got attention from people who are not youth pastors. would love your thoughts. http://www.youthspecialties.com/articles/do-you-need-a-digital-sabbath/

24 Virginia August 1, 2010

During our 2 1/2 years in Peace Corps (Ukraine) we had the opportunity to live without direct access to the Intenet and other technologies. It was liberating and wonderful. I love journaling and am grateful for e-mail connections with friends and family living in distant places around the globe, but we found ways to manage our connectedness and engage in a full, rich life. I used my laptop (offline) to answer e-mail, journal, etc and every few days I would go to the library to upload/download my mail and to do any research I needed to accomplish. Many weekends, I disengage and simply do not turn on the computer or other technologies. These days, I walk more, I enjoy washing my dishes by hand and I even wash my clothes by hand and dry them on a line. I use a straw broom (eliminated that nasty vacuuming chore). These days, I am far more at ease with myself and relaxed…not racing around and I have time to think as I go about the gentle tasks of my day. Life is good – especially if we pay attention to it! 8-)
“Ginn”
In Sunny Santa Fe

25 Kisane August 11, 2010

For the first time in I don’t know how long, I took two weekend trips recently with my boyfriend who’s a great proponent for living simply and didn’t bring my mobile phone. Wow! Not only did I not miss being obliged to answer text messages and phone calls, I was able to shut out the outside world for a couple of days and just focus on him and me. And you know what? It truly was wonderfully liberating. My sister said I should have taken it along but then I said, how on earth did we manage before the age of the Internet and mobile phone? Taking that digital sabbatical was an experiment that is now here to stay.

26 Meme August 11, 2010

sometimes, when I get away from the computer, I like to just be still. I will go out to my balcony and watch how the leaves rustle, or how the squirrels chase one another, or how the clouds move in the sky. There is so much magic to be witnessed just by doing “nothing”.
The digital world can be so fast and stimulating. It’s nice to just take time to be slow and still.
Thanks for the list. :)

27 Bill August 12, 2010

Is it possible that the whole “clutter” issue is in your head? My partner of 20 years and I both tend to allow things to stay a bit cluttered, and we’re fine with it. He’s a computer whiz who dabbles in machining things out of metal, and I’m a reader and a dreamer who dabbles in making things out of wood. Our industrial shop, our electronic shop, our library, and our other various lairs are always in a state of what I consider to be cheerful clutter. It drives our house mate nuts, because she’s very minimalist and very anal about having things organized, but we’re perfectly content with it. Both of us hate it when she “organizes” things because we can’t find anything afterwards. And she used to try to find things to get rid of by picking up random things and quizzing us about their utility. After being told “it’s complicated-yes we use it-put it back” enough times, she’s given up on that. I always see books and web sites about “de-cluttering” your life and how it will make everything ever-so-much better and will make you happier, etc, etc. and roll my eyes. I love being surrounded by books, even if I only refer to any given one of them once in ten years. I think creatively best when I can sit on a stool surrounded by tools, materials, and gizmos, and can pick things up and toy with them until I get some inspiration as to how to proceed. I feel as though “clutter” is my friend. I _like_ it this way. That doesn’t make me wrong, or any less happy. It just makes me different from the neat-freaks…

28 Alberto Garcia Carmona August 17, 2010

Tammy
awsome list, I like it very much
One of my quotes for your list “Things are simple, we complicate them to hide our defects”
All the best
AL

29 Joys August 28, 2010

I would add “Stop Beating Yourself”. It’s just about balance. I have wonderful friends online and on the road.

30 Eric August 29, 2010

For folks planning to take digital sabbaticals:

It occurs to me that possibly it might be a good idea to see if you can find a way so that your e-mailbox will automatically send an email message back to anybody who sends you an email. There should be a message that says you’re taking a digital sabbatical (maybe even include a link to this page!). Mention when you’ll be back online, or at least when you’ll be able to respond, such as “I’ll be back online after the weekend.”

That way someone who doesn’t know about digital sabbaticals who’s wondering why they’re not getting a response by email almost immediately will know why and will therefore have an easier time waiting for your return.

For those who use Gmail, here’s a link on how you can set up an automatic vacation response:
http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=25922

I don’t know if every Internet Service Provider offers this feature.

31 jolene September 29, 2010

hey tammy, lovely post.
am in the online advtg industry and sometimes i feel the internet’s gonna take over my life.
i try to do a digital cleanse every 2 months or so.

for me reading a book is the most effective of them all.

thanks
Jo

32 Jean at The Delightful Repast October 3, 2010

Tammy, I love this post. It is so “ME”! Except the last part of #7. I definitely eat real food, but just as definitely, I am no minimalist cook! Don’t need to be–cooking makes me happy; it is several of those other numbers on the list all rolled into one! I’m reading this post on Sunday but have decided to unplug on Sundays from now on. Thanks!

33 seashell January 14, 2011

Wonderful post! I feel like I’ve been connecting too much on the internet. I am going to try this tonight and try to do it 3 nights each week. I’m a computer programmer, so I mostly can’t unplug for a whole day. Thank you so much for the idea.

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