Taking a July Digital Sabbatical: Why & How

by Tammy Strobel on June 27, 2011

In September 2010, The Chartered Institute for IT released an intriguing report about Internet use and happiness. Interestingly, the results suggested that some people benefit more than others when they tap into the cloud, including those with lower incomes, people living in the developing world, and women. The researchers said the Internet has “an indirect, enabling and empowering role leading to a greater sense of freedom and control which in turn leads to greater life satisfaction.” In other words, Internet access will make you happier.

On the other hand, I know far too many people who walk around like zombies with their eyes glued to their smart phones. Business Week aptly noted, that “scrolling through e-mail and punching out text messages fire up the dopamine-reward system, unleashing a pleasure-inducing hit that for an estimated 6% of Internet users has become clinically addictive.”

So if we’re always on e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, are we really experiencing true connection? Maybe it’s time to unplug and engage in real life?

Why I’m Unplugging . . .

During the month of July, I’ll be taking a digital sabbatical and spending the whole month away from blogging, Twitter, Facebook, and other online activities to focus on my book.

Many of you know that I spent a big chunk of the year working on a book proposal for the print world. My literary agent spent the last few months pitching the concept to publishers and I recently signed on with New World Library. I’m incredibly excited about this opportunity!

Now comes the hard part. It’s one thing to write 1000-2000 word blog posts, letters or a 30,000 word guide. It’s another thing to write a 70,000 word book. I’ve been spending a lot of time on the book and so far I’ve written about 37,000 words. But most of those words aren’t good. I’m still working on a very shitty first draft.

And that’s why I’ve cleared my calendar for the month of July to focus on this project. In essence, my digital sabbatical is my “very, very, very serious plan for dealing with internet distractions.”

What My Sabbatical Will Look Like . . .

I’ve been blogging for over three and half years without a significant break. Taking time off from any medium is a good thing. We all need time to recharge from work and creative endeavors.

So over the next month, I will be:

  • Writing my book.
  • Drinking lots of coffee.
  • Doing yoga, biking, and walking.
  • Sending out weekly letters.
  • Using Skype to call friends and family.

I won’t be:

  • Blogging, moderating comments, checking Twitter, Facebook, or surfing the Internet mindlessly.
  • Other than sending out my weekly letters, I will be checking my email two times a week to stay in touch with friends, family, and my editor.
  • I will not be responding to reader requests during July.

The How . . .

There are a few things I’ve done to prepare for my month off:

- Gathered my tools. A portion of my book includes academic research and that has already been saved to my hard-drive. So I shouldn’t have to open my browser. In addition, I’ve made a list of the books I want to read during July.

As far as writing tools go, I’ll be journaling, using the OmmWriter, and Word. If you’re thinking about unplugging for any length of time, make a list of the resources you’ll need. If you plan in advance, you won’t have to log-on.

- Made it hard to be online. My plan is to do most of my writing in the park or in Internet free coffee shops. If I’m at home, I’ll turn off my wireless connection. In addition, I deleted all of my social networking applications from my iPod Touch as well as my e-mail account.

Also, I installed Freedom. It’s a “simple productivity application that locks you away from the internet on Mac or Windows computers for up to eight hours at a time.”

Questions & Answers . . .

Last week, I asked my Twitter followers and friends if they had questions about my digital sabbatical. Below are some of the questions I gathered as well as a few responses to Gwen Bell’s prompts.

1. Describe the moment at which you decided you needed to unplug. How long were you unplugged?

Late last summer, I started working on a book proposal. The proposal writing process was fun, but it was also challenging. I felt a little overwhelmed and stuck with my writing during this time and I discovered that part of my problem was that I was spending too much time online, instead of writing.

During this same period, I read an article by Gwen Bell about her upcoming digital sabbatical. She decided to unplug for the month of July. The idea of unplugging for a month sounded appealing, but I wasn’t ready to take that much time off. So I started by taking weekend sabbaticals and then I took a week off in September. It was a refreshing break because I reconnected to the stuff that really matters, like family, nature, and my writing.

2. Were there any moments you cheated? Or wanted to cheat?

Yes! There were many moments I wanted to cheat. Most of the time, it was when I felt uncomfortable with my writing. I learned that I was using the Internet as a tool to procrastinate.

3. What insights did you gain about yourself by taking a Digital Sabbatical?

First, I have to stop looking for validation from external sources. The number of emails I receive, facebook likes, retweets, and blog comments aren’t going to validate my writing abilities.

Second, it’s easy for me to get caught up the drama of everyday life. I tend to rush from activity to activity and I forget that happiness can be found in the small, quiet details of life. Taking a week off from the Internet gave me the space to slow down. It will be interesting to see how a full month off feels.

4. How realistic is it, really, to avoid all things digital these days?

Anything is realistic if you want it to be. Of course we all have very different life circumstances and most people aren’t able to take a month off the Internet.

For me, this experiment boils down to my daily intentions and how I use my time. I’ve always had an addictive personality and the Internet is a swirling vortex of addition. It fosters distraction and procrastination on a major level for me.

Realistically this is more like a 95% sabbatical because I will still be checking email a few times a week. It’s all about putting a little bit more muscle work into my creative endeavors.

5. What, if anything, will you have to do differently in your daily life to accomplish the same things you usually do digitally?

Well, I won’t be tweeting, blogging, or checking e-mail obsessively. I can still express my thoughts in my journal, I just won’t be sharing the content with the world.

Second, I had to prepare to work offline and that meant gathering my research ahead of time, rather scrambling at the last minute. And in a lot of ways that’s been a really good thing for me. It’s helped me outline my chapters in more detail and I don’t feel as overwhelmed.

6. What do you think will be the hardest part of unplugging and what will be the most gratifying part?

The hardest part will be resisting the urge to log-on and cheat. The most gratifying part? Giving myself the space to create. And more importantly, to know that it’s okay to take time off from email, blogging, and the social web to focus on one project. The idea that we have to respond to requests as soon as possible and “be on” all the time is false. It’s the biggest lie “professionals” tell themselves. We have a responsibility to build time into our schedules so that we can create and help other people.

Last words . . .

Before I go, I want to share a few final thoughts with you.

Cheating. Obviously, I don’t want to cheat. But I’m not going to beat myself up if I fall off the digital sabbatical wagon. If I cheat, I can take a step back and ask myself why I felt the need to log-on. If “cheating” happens, I can use it as a learning opportunity.

Journaling. Over the next month, I’m going to be journaling a lot. I’m curious to see how it’s going to feel to be away from the Internet for a month.

And I have to laugh at myself for becoming such an addict. In high school, my best friend got an Internet connection and I was super skeptical of the cloud. I didn’t even get an email address until college. I distinctly remember checking my email account in the student union. At the time, I didn’t have my own personal computer and was scared of technology. Instead, I wrote in my journal. Over the next month, I’ll be doing some thing similar.

Comfort. I realize taking a month off the Internet sounds a little extreme to some of you. And that’s okay. But I hope you’ll consider unplugging this summer, even if it’s only for a few hours everyday.

Instead of opening your browser, go outside and enjoy the summer weather. Work on projects you’re passionate about. Meditate. Do yoga. Volunteer. Take your lover on a date. Live it up!

An Experiment in Happiness. On the surface, this experiment seems like an exercise in deprivation. In some ways it is, but not really. It’s a fun challenge. I’m only a sample size of one, but I’m curious to see whether or not this challenge will make me happier.

The report by The Chartered Institute for IT strongly suggested that the Internet can make you happier. Like all good things in life, you need balance. Once balance is out of the equation, it’s hard to find happiness, even in the things that are supposed to enhance your well-being.

***

What more information on a digital sabbatical? Here are a few articles to get you started:

Want to support me while I’m on sabbatical?

Considering buying one of my ebooks or subscribe to my weekly letter. :) Have a lovely July!

1 Melissa / Peace & Projects June 27, 2011

Have fun, Tammy! Sounds like an amazing opportunity – I’d be curious to know your thoughts once the month is over. Also, I can’t wait to read your book. I know you’ll rock it.
Hugs to you,
Melissa Gorzelanczyk

2 Tammy June 27, 2011

Thanks Melissa! :) I appreciate the kind words and encouragement. When I come back online, I’ll do a debrief post about my time off.

3 Stacey June 27, 2011

Rock on!

4 Milo June 27, 2011

Good luck! I’d love to try this but think I might find it impossible due to my iPhone addiction (unless I gave it to someone for safe-keeping). Have you thought of disconnecting your home wireless altogether for the month? Would take away the temptation to cheat when you’re at home..

5 Tammy June 27, 2011

@Milo – Thanks! :) Our apartment has a shared Internet connection, otherwise I would unplug it. :)

6 Dave June 27, 2011

Heh, I love that photo of Logan in the flowers :)

I can certainly understand the inclination to avoid the internet – I mostly think I would be ok not having internet at home, personally, except that it would make it hard to blog :) I have really no desire to have internet access on my phone though, or to be able to connect while running around. I much prefer to just be engaged in whatever I’m doing, with the people I’m actually with. In fact, I often don’t answer my phone right away either, for that exact reason, and we have considered getting rid of our mobile phones and just getting a land line again, so that we only have to worry about even bothering with the phone while we’re at home.

Deprivation has a very negative connotation, but it’s not always a bad thing. Just because something exists, it doesn’t mean that you need to or should use it, or that you need to or should use it all the time. Like cars. They exist, and in many ways, that’s good. But it doesn’t mean you must or should use one all the time. Only when it really makes sense (and you have to think honestly about when it really makes sense).

Just like anything, there’s a balance to find, between where a thing is adding value to your life, and where it begins to take it away, and that’s something each person has to decide for themselves based on what they want their life to be like.

7 Megan Swicegood June 27, 2011

I wish you the best of luck. What a fantastic way to spend the month of July.

8 Steve M June 27, 2011

Good luck with the book Tammy – enjoy your sabbatical – see you in a month or so!

Steve

9 Robert Hickman June 27, 2011

Good luck to you, Sure you will find it a huge creativity boost.

I too find it very difficult to get much done if I have an Internet connection… So I go for a hike, take my laptop along and write in the middle of nowhere. Also do a lot of writing on my Kindle, considering how small it is, it is surprisingly easy to type on.

10 Katherine June 27, 2011

Enjoy the break! I took last month off of facebook because it had become a compulsion and not an enjoyment anymore. It was great! I so enjoyed the freedom. I cheated a couple of times for important updates about a friends’ son and his health, but really enjoyed being facebook-free for the month.

Can’t wait to hear about it when the sabbatical is over.

11 Sunday June 27, 2011

so proud of you but will definitely miss your posts. can’t wait til you’re back on-line and wowing us with your life :)

12 rob June 27, 2011

Have a great July. I unplugged for 5 weeks in Jan/Feb and it was awesome.

13 Sue June 27, 2011

Hi Tammy,

If you’re aiming for 70,000 words and you’ve written 37,000 of your first draft, then you’re more than half way there. Don’t worry about the quality of the first draft–it’s not supposed to be perfect or brilliantly crafted. Have a wonderful, productive sabbatical for the month of July. Now, I’m off to practice what I just preached about not getting hung up on the imperfection of the first draft. Grin.

14 Julie June 27, 2011

Good luck! I think it would be nice to be away from everything digital for a month – but I would definitely need some company (sometimes I think the internet is the only thing that keeps me from going crazy from working alone all day every day!). Enjoy your yoga, walks and writing!!

15 Patty June 27, 2011

Congratulations and please enjoy your month of greater awareness! I figure if I’m always hooked up to a computer, my quality of life can’t be very good. And that goes double for phones, smart or not. Best Wishes!

16 Meg June 27, 2011

Good luck! Sounds like a great way to disconnect and get creative. I am very excited to see the outcome in August. Good luck with your book.

17 Krystal June 27, 2011

Have fun on your digital sabbatical! :) I was digital-free for a month last year. Well, I did begin to use my phone to listen to music on long drives (I was on vacation for a month), but other than that, I did not use any computer or phone to use the internet or anything. It felt very, very free! :D

18 Caroline McGraw / A Wish Come Clear June 27, 2011

Thanks for this thoughtful post, Tammy! I’ve been taking a weekly day-mostly-away from the internet (typically Sunday), and your post has inspired me to be more intentional about this practice. Planning ahead, as you say, is key.
Best wishes as you work on your book ~ I look forward to reading it! :) Let me know if there’s any way I can support you in your sabbatical + the time afterward.

19 teresa June 27, 2011

Inspiring…I am currently working on my dissertation and get so easily distracted. As I am writing, I think “oh, I should make sure this website is still current” or “I need to find more articles to support this theory” and I end up online. While I need to do those things at some point, I end up putting off the actual writing to go off in search online. While I won’t be taking a sabbatical per se, I think I will employ some of your techniques to stay on track such as gathering resources ahead of time and working in internet free zones. Thanks Tammy! And good luck with your month of intense writing!

20 Jen June 27, 2011

How exciting!!!! Good luck on your book, I’m sure it will be great! I will miss your post but look forward to what you come up with in the next month.

21 Bob Soltys June 27, 2011

Thank you for making me think about what’s really important, for the reminder to refocus on the things that matter, and inspiring me to to the same and get back to black and white film photography, reading, Lucky the JRT, and my bees

… As @DustDigital on Twitter put it, “the perplexity of making a living from art drives us to excessively network, causing a detriment to our art”

22 Tammy WV June 27, 2011

Wishing you the best on your digital sabbitcal :-) Can’t wait to hear what wonderful refreshing ideas you will have…Blessings on you and your projects..Can’t wait to hear from you again.

Tammy

23 rob June 27, 2011

Curse you and your catalytic ideas!

Actually, your upcoming sabbatical (and talking about it) came on a day when I realized how much of the “stuff” I read on the web is total drivel. I think I’m going to do a half-sabbatical, and cut out everything that isn’t directly tied to my work. Well, and perhaps my morning comics. :)

24 S Tan June 28, 2011

Enjoy the break – I took a sabbatical for part of June (1 week voluntary – the 2nd week involuntary due to a crashed hard drive and a water logged Blackberry) – Either way it was great – I was more present in each moment, connected with people via telephone and in-person which was more fulfilling and remembered how we used to regularly get work done before the explosion of the computer and internet in the workplace (in my first job I shared a non-networked giant desktop computer with a team of co-workers). Overall the quality of my work improved during that computer-less week.

It is funny how we see internet access as being ‘connected’ but you referred in your post to connected folks as being ‘zombies’ which is the opposite of being connected to our current place, time and events.

25 tammy June 28, 2011

smart move i would say! enjoy your lovely break… we’ll all be here when you’re back.
plus… i LOVE your new shorter hair cut. very chic!

26 Sandra Pawula June 28, 2011

Tammy,

Congratulations on taking this huge leap. I know it will be fantastic for you. It’s amazing how addicting the internet can be and that people actually need apps to lock them out for periods of time! Our brain will hard wire in behaviors like this so it’s always good to check ourselves.

I appreciate all your practical suggestions. I will be doing a one-week meditation retreat in July and the secondary gain from that will be a digital sabbatical. I’m looking forward to it and will be armed with your practical suggestions.

27 helen crozier June 28, 2011

good luck! shall be eager to see how it goes…. such a lot of people doing this now, inspired by ‘hamlet’s blackberry’… have you read it???

28 Tammy June 29, 2011

@Helen – Yes I have! I loved that book. :)

29 traci sabia June 29, 2011

I will definitly miss you for the month Tammy. Your RK site, FB posts and all around words of wisdom is my sabbatical in a way. With the hussle and bussel of being a navy wife and stay at home mom of a 7 and 1 year old- your site is my relaxation and meditation of the day. Reading your posts relaxes me and puts me at ease for the day, and puts a smile on my face. You are my vacation, my sabbatical. I am looking forward to August and all the new adventures, information, knowledge and personal journeys that you will take part in and in turn share with your number 1 fans. I to will try to take a break this summer. check the email here and there and pay my bills on line and visit RK but stay away from “surfing the web” and instead look into my girls eyes and enjoy them. Good Luck Tam! All my love your way and we will See you in August :)

30 Amanda June 29, 2011

Tammy, you are so right to take a break / sabbatical which I think is something that most people who frequently use the internet and always seem to be somehow plugged in need a break every once in a while. Also, I agree that it’s about balance because even something good can turn into something bad if you overuse it too much. I take breaks on the weekend away from my blog and I try not to check Facebook or Twitter as often or on the weekends. Plus, when I go on vacation I usually unplug completely. A lot of kids/teenagers probably wonder what the world was like without the internet because they don’t know of a world without it but they need to know that it’s good to disconnect/unplug for a while and remember to live and enjoy “real” life too! :) Hope you have a great break and I’m sure your book will be awesome! Happy writing!

31 Gene June 29, 2011

Tammy,

I hope you have a wonderful and PRODUCTIVE July! You are a blessing to so many people and I know that you’ll be rewarded for the humble acts of service you provide through your writing.

Look forward to hearing from you in August.

32 Mike June 29, 2011

Tammy,

Hey! I have been reading your posts for some time now. For the longest time, I thought I was the only person who wanted to live a simpler, less cluttered life. It is nice to know there are others like me!

I read over your last post about taking some time off to write your new book. I think it is a very exciting process and look forward to hearing more from you in August.

Before you head off, I want to give something back to you. I came across this website to help authors self publish. I am currently writing a book too and will be using this site to get this and future books out there.

https://www.createspace.com/

I hope it helps!

Mike

33 Tammy June 29, 2011

Thanks for all the well-wishes peeps! I appreciate the support. :)

34 Amanda Bretz June 29, 2011

Tammy,

Maybe you’ve already said this somewhere and I missed it, but what is the print book about? Just curious. I am sure it will be awesome whatever it’s about.

Amanda

35 Nina Yau June 29, 2011

I heart you, Tammy! You’re gonna rock the shizzles out of your book project. Enjoy the time offline; the ‘real’ world is amazing, is it not?

36 Brenda June 29, 2011

Best of Luck Tammy. We’ll miss you, but completely understand. I myself have become quite an addict. For the past few weeks I have been considering a digital sabbatical myself. Take right now for example. I am on vacation and still plugged in. I said I would try to disconnect for at least 4 days and I only made it through 1 day. Oops. All I can do is try again. Again best of luck. I know you’ll have a wonderful time.
-Brenda

37 Karen T. June 30, 2011

Have a wonderful time, Tammy! Blessings as you focus on your writing!

You know, we should all think about our electronic addictions. If we have to plan to NOT be online, and if it’s so AMAZING that we go for one moment unconnected by Skype or cell phone or whatever, and we even have to think about the urge to cheat, that seems disfunctional to me. The Web, Twitter, Facebook and the rest of them didn’t even exist not so long ago, and yet our lives seem stalled when we do not have access. That is just a bit ridiculous and quite sad, I think.

38 Sherri Dunham July 12, 2011

I think that becoming accustomed to the internet and being “connected” can be somewhat equated to having electricity, indoor plumbing, cars, and other modern luxuries that also weren’t always a part of the human experience. Our lives have adapted to having these digital connections and we’ve come to rely on them in ways we never anticipated. Is it bad? I don’t think so. I think it’s a kind of evolution. However, I too think taking a break from digital connections now and then is nice, much like planning for the enjoyable experience of going camping in the woods and taking a break from modern life – but I don’t think anyone would say it’s sad or dysfunctional to long for a hot shower or a stove. I think it seems more ridiculous with digital connections simply because they’re newer in our lives – but I don’t think they’re so different from other modern luxuries that we now consider “normal.”

39 Nadya June 30, 2011

about a month ago, I started with a hectic program of de-cluterring (although I am already a constant de-clutterer, this last month has been extreme) as well as preparing to take a sebatical from technology in July. I am not going all the way, but I am turning of twitter, FB and I ahve deleted all apps from my phone. You can read more about it on my blog. Mine is an experiment of minimilism and whatever that will bring forth.

AND I would like to tell you, in the last week I have come across at least 2 people a day who are also doing this. People are tird of being bound to a technological world, because no matter how much love you get there, it’s the people across form you a the dinner table that really count. Humans thrive on touch.

40 Nadya June 30, 2011

oh, and enjoy the break! See you when you get back.

41 sean June 30, 2011

Hey there! If you ever can make it to DC, I’ll get you a Library of Congress researcher card- good for two years! You can sit in the main reading room in the Jefferson building and soak up everything you ever wanted! Just let me know.
Cheers and have a great July!!!
s

42 Logan July 2, 2011

Thanks Sean! I don’t know when the next time is that we’ll be back east but, I’ll let Tammy know! She’s currently in a digital hermitage for the month so she can get some book writing done. :) Hopefully she’ll reply to you once she resurfaces on the internet. :) Cheers!

43 Erica Breuer July 3, 2011

my kindle anxiously awaits your new book!
i’m sure that draft wasn’t too shitty.
we’re gonna miss you!

44 Miss Zen July 5, 2011

Wish you the very best. I recently discovered your blog and very much enjoy it. You make me think deeper about some issues I was just playing with. So I’ll miss your post but can’t wait for the book !

45 Karla July 7, 2011

Hi Tammy,

Enjoy your digital free month and best of luck to you on your book! I am hoping to make the time to write one myself one of these days.

46 Christine July 8, 2011

Every great book started out as a shitty first draft.
I read this somewhere and it stuck with me:
“If you’re uncertain about whether you’re a good writer or not, don’t worry, really bad writers are certain.”
Sorry, I forget the source.
Best of luck and enjoy your first book!

47 Gretchen Neer July 18, 2011

Tammy,
You have been such an inspiration to me for almost a year now. I first saw your blog when you were featured on Yahoo.com in August 2010 and have been enamored with your work and ideas. Congrats on the book deal, on leading a simple life and on leading a movement.
I’m in the process of ditching my car, scaling my living situation down, and launching my own tiny business. We’re even canceling Netflix (we’ve already killed out TV)!
Thank you so much for everything you do.
Best,
Gretchen

48 Tabita July 26, 2011

Way to go! I think Internet distractions is the single biggest problem when it comes to getting important, creative things done.

However, I’ve found that it’s pretty isolating to be completely unplugged. I will be interested to find out what you plan to do after your break to balance Internet use and life. Peace.

49 Amber August 1, 2011

Hope you enjoyed your sabbatical Tammy, and that you come back well rested and refreshed!
Looking forward to reading more! :)

50 Sunday August 1, 2011

It’s now officially August 1. Are you back? I think we all missed you and are eagerly awaiting your return to blogging :)

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