Taking a July Digital Sabbatical: Why & How
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?
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.
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.