Reflections on being off the grid

Last week I went “off the grid”. I thought I would benefit from a  complete break. People rave about the 24/7 society, and anytime anywhere learning, but I actually think it’s healthy to cut off every so often. I also think we should encourage young people to as well. Anyway, here are my reflections on being unavailable for a week.

Sometimes it's good to not talk...

How unavailable was I?

Very. I didn’t touch email, and didn’t answer my mobile. I didn’t have a landline, and I didn’t check Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin.

Wasn’t that a bit extreme?

Yes. I know that many people check their email every day while on holiday. In fact, I was talking to a building surveyor recently and he said he allocates 5pm to 6pm for checking his email when he’s away. Like me he is an independent consultant, so I understand why he would do that. However, having spent many years doing that myself, and losing half the holiday in the process, I decided that this time I wasn’t going to fall into that trap.

What trap?

Here’s what happens. You say to yourself, “Right, I’m just going to check my emails before we go out for the day/have lunch/have supper/settle down for the evening.” But there’s an email that asks you if you could take on some work. You check what the work is, and think about whether you could do it. Then you think about whether you have time to do it, which means checking your diary. Then you have to ascertain whether the potential client intends paying for the work (you think I’m joking, don’t you?). By the time you’ve done all that, at least an hour has gone.

The thing is, though, it doesn’t stop there. If it’s an exciting-sounding piece of work, I’ll spend ages ruminating on how I might tackle it, which may be enjoyable, but is hardly relaxing.

Advantages and disadvantages

The advantages of breaking off completely have been:

  • I am now working much faster than just before I went offline. For example, a Bring Your Own Technology Case Study was taking me 40 minutes to write, on average, but is now taking me 23 minutes.
  • I’ve managed to almost completely clear a chest infection I had, because I spent a week breathing in sea air.
  • I’m not as tired as I was. (I always get tired as the end of term draws near.)

The biggest disadvantage, without a doubt, has been coming back to a deluge of emails. Last Sunday I spent around 3 hours sorting out a ridiculously large influx of over 500 emails. I’ve whittled that down to around 70 which must be dealt with, although I have to say I haven’t made much of a dent in that pile because of various deadlines I’m attempting to meet. (So if your email is in that pile, please bear with me for a few days.) Had I spent an hour or two each day dealing with email, it wouldn’t have seemed like such an insurmountable task on my return.

In conclusion…

So do I regret my decision to not look at emails at all? Not at all. I’d have dealt with the emails, but not had as good a rest, and I’ve come to the somewhat reluctant conclusion that rest is quite useful.

Indeed, I am trying to ensure that I behave sensibly on a day-to-day basis and not try to work non-stop like I used to. The net result has been that I am actually getting more done in a given period of time.

I don’t have any great words of wisdom to impart on this topic, except to say that society may be 24/7 but individual human beings aren’t; I think we sometimes forget that.

And now, back to that stack of emails…