This has been a difficult year of significant illnesses for many people that are dear to me. Thankfully, two of my close friends are winning their cancer battles and they emphatically keep reminding me to "live the moment, do whatever it is you want to do, you don't know what is going to happen tomorrow". So - an out of the blue email from an old friend inviting me to pop down to the Cayman Islands for her daughters wedding in a few weeks was taken seriously. I booked the flight that day.
Somewhere on the long multi-leg flight from Vancouver to Grand Cayman Island I realized I was burnt out, and really needed to get away. Completely. So I took a vow of Techno-Abstinence. 6 days of total unplugging - no phone, no email, no internet access - just friends, books, sand, and surf.
As I relaxed into my unplugged Island life I instantly felt an extreme sense of freedom. No one could call me, I was answerable to no one, I could do whatever I wanted in whatever timing I wanted. The days instantly seemed long and inviting. Carefree and relaxed.
It struck me how being so reactive and "available" has interfered with my happiness and my ability to really experience life.
This is not an article to slag technology. I am the first to recognize the value of being connected and what it has done for me and my business. But for me, like I am sure, many of you, my reliance and addiction to all things technological has gotten out of control.
How can we get past this urgency and live in the moment? How much do we lose each day by being constantly "available" and reactive to our techno devices? I know it is not convenient for all of us to run away for a week, so how can we recreate that vacation feeling of freedom every day? How can we get away without being away?
4 Keys to Successful Unplugging
Choose your Timing:
Many of us have gotten so used to always being available and in a constant state of "readiness" or "responsiveness" that we have forgotten there is any other way. Take back control and reclaim your personal power by beginning to actively schedule "unplugged" time into each of your days. Perhaps start with a modest goal of completely unplugging at least once per day for an hour. Yes, that's right, no email, no cell phones.
Set yourself up for success. Don't unplug when you know you are it will adversely affect you or your business. Do unplug when you take your toddler out for a walk in the park. Do unplug when you go to dinner with a friend. Do unplug when you are grocery shopping. Baby steps. Get yourself used to the feeling and freedom of being untethered by technology. Gradually work up to at least one day per week. One day where you call all the shots. One day where you do not answer to beeps, red lights flashing, pings or rings.
On vacation: My old Winston dictionary defines a vacation as "a time of recreation or rest from regular duties." A vacation in which you are still on call to the world is not a vacation. Accept that there is never a perfect time to "unplug" and trust that the spiritual and emotional benefits of being free from technology will far outweigh the delay in returning a call or email.
Create your Boundaries:
Plan for it. Choose the times in your day when you will not be available to people - perhaps that is at dinner, or while driving, or while having family time. Be firm with yourself and others. Tell your staff you are not accessible. Remember that the phone is there for your convenience, not the callers.
On vacation: Create the critical boundaries around your vacation time. Put an "away message" on your email letting people know when they can expect to hear back from you and stick to it! There was an incredible freedom putting a "I will respond to your email in 6 days" message on my email (and meaning it!). Give your emergency number only to those critical few who might need to contact you (and be sure to define what an "emergency" is!) If you have clients that need to be served while you are away, make sure you have set up the systems for them to be served that does not involve your immediate input. If it impossible to completely unplug on vacation, then be ruthlessly rigid with your boundaries around scheduled work time while on vacation.
Stay out of temptation:
I left my laptop in Vancouver which proved physically and literally to be a weight off my back. I had my cellular phone, but I knew that the International roaming charges on Grand Cayman would be astronomical so I planned only to turn it on to check for any emergency text messages. It made my unplugging experiment simple since I had no easy techno access.
Set yourself up for success. The easiest way to stay out of temptation during your "unplugged time" is to leave all of your techno devices at home or completely turn them off. Oh - and putting them on vibrate does not count because that still means you are in a reactive mode and are responsive to someone else.
Reframe your thinking:
We have been brainwashed to believe the only way to achieve success is to constantly "do". Neale Donald Walsch, author of Conversations with God, reminds us that "we are human beings, not human doings." Reframe your thinking around your "being" time. Recognize that to unplug and allow yourself "being" time will make you healthier, happier and more productive.
The creative space that is opened up by unplugging is incredible. There is a reason why we get inspiration, or suddenly think of ideas or solutions to problems when we are in the shower. We can let their minds just "be" and the space that is created allows all sorts of other thoughts to pop in. Your "being" time is as important as your "doing" time.
What did I discover from my 6 day unplugged experiment? I felt a much stronger sense of being present and really living each moment. And guess what? I discovered that many of my emails are not important, I did not miss anything, my clients understood and my family and friends still love me. Was I totally successful in my unplugging experiment? Well I will confess that the first 24 hours were the most difficult and I did visit the local Internet cafe. As I waited for the long list of emails to download I realized I really wasn't interested in reading them....so after I sent a quick email to my loved ones to say that I had arrived safely, I logged off. For good.