When was the last time you went offline for a decent slab of time? Work makes this difficult for some in our tech-filled lives. But do we owe it to ourselves to be stricter over our use of tech?
by Darren Caveney
I wasn’t going to post this one. I was worried that it would come across a bit smug, a little bit irritating. I have been jokingly telling, and boring anyone who would listen, that I took 10 days offline over half term. It’s a bit like my alcohol-free January’s – anyone who knows me will know that I bore the pants off anyone within earshot about those heroic exploits too. I guess we all need a little bit of attention, eh?
Now before I commence this offline tale I’ll level with you and mention two important caveats.
First off it has to be said that I worked like a demon for the weeks beforehand to get my consultancy work into a healthy place so that I could afford to dip out for a very rare offline break. That meant 60-70 hour weeks for a good slab of time in the run up to my break.
The second caveat is this – I know that I am really lucky running my own small business which gives me the option to go offline. Not everyone can and I get and respect that. I’ve been there and this is in no way a dig at people who can’t easily escape phones and laptops. Quite the opposite.
So I genuinely had decided not to post this one – you know the rule: if in doubt, don’t. But some fine folks I like a lot, via @comms2point0, persuaded me to post it.
So if it is a tad annoying, I’m sorry. Give it a wide berth.
Running comms2point0.co.uk and a busy communications consultancy inevitably means that I spend a lot of time online. From adding new website content and engaging with the community on social media via @comms2point0, to carrying out digital and social media reviews for organisations and planning training and events.
How many hours do I spend looking at a screen in a typical week? Honestly? I don’t know. I could get an app which would monitor it. But the results might frighten me.
So at half term we had a family holiday planned. Truth be told, I have ended up working on several previous holidays. That’s not a complaint, just a fact.
So I decided to do it differently this time and take a deliberate and strict break for 10 days.
Now I wrote this post, on holiday, with a pen and a note pad. Why, you ask? Because when I say I went offline for 10 days I mean I literally did - I didn’t take my laptop away with me, and I switched my smartphone off. Actually off.
I also didn’t go anywhere near:
comms2point0.co.uk (that was hard)
Radio 4 podcasts
And definitely nowhere near Facebook
Was it easy?
Honestly? On day one I kept reaching for my phone during any ‘down time’. Duh – it’s all down time, bozzo.
I realised after a couple of hours that there was absolutely no reason for me to be doing this other than plain old habit. Day one was initially quite tricky. But by the time I had a nice cold bottle of local brew in my excited hand much later that day the ‘smartphone-grab’ habit had pretty much stopped.
Day two? As Big Daddy used to say: “Easy, easy, easy.”
From there on in I actually found it quite simple. I went hours and hours not knowing what the time was. Because I wasn’t staring at a smartphone, which normally tells me at regular intervals. That was a good place to be.
Three’s things happened
1. I read more…
First off, I read three books and I did some sketches. Three books in a week – Mrs C does this most weeks but for me that was more than I had read in the previous four months (I’m not proud of that)
One of the books I read was Deep Work by Cal Newport (thanks to Alan Oram for the tip off) If I had to distil the book into a one liner it’s this: Tech and digital distracts us from doing our best work. Not a new idea but one worth pondering on, especially when we’re all paid to be creative communicators.
2. My health improved
Literally. In three ways
My heart - I got up and went for a run most mornings.
My head – my mind was freed up and as the days passed I found I was having more and more ideas about exciting new work and events for the second half of 2017.
My eyes – we know that the blue light emitted by phones and tablets is harmful. It might be a psychological one this but 10 days offline and I swear my eyesight improved.
3. I spent more time playing with and talking to the kids.
You can’t beat quality time with loved ones. But it isn’t quality time when screens dominate our lives, posting pictures of this, that and the other. Who cares? No one – we should get on with enjoying the moment and stop messing around with staged pics. Sorry, sermon over.
The scary things was in the first couple of days it was my kids who wanted to look at screens (and I can hardly complain if they have taken a lead from me) It struck me that they needed to switch off too. Which they did.
What next - will I stay offline?
No, course not. I like being online, I need to be online. I enjoy chatting with friends and colleagues on Twitter, LinkedIn and Slack and to customers on email and telephone.
I love comms2point0.co.uk, I’m proud of it and the rich back catalogue of comms and digital gems bestowed in it.
And I thoroughly enjoy my job and the work I do with individuals, teams and organisations. Much of this involves being online.
Could I reduce the amount of time I spend online and still achieve good results? Almost certainly. But it will take some deliberate but realistic changes.
I have made some changes already…
I have unsubscribed from a boat-load of emails and switched off as many notifications and alerts as possible (they are plain old bad)
Is my personal life enhanced by Instagram and Facebook? Nope, not a jot. I’m sticking to what I like and what works.
I am going to try and stick to set times to look at my emails too (and outside of those times close my inbox so that I don’t get distracted)
Here’s the clincher. I ran a quick one day Twitter poll of @comms2point0 asking followers about their offline activity so far in 2017. The results a couple of hours in (from 85 of you so far) were a little bit worrying…
Going offline: So far in 2017 have you?
Not been offline at all 60%
Had the odd day offline 29%
Had a week offline 6%
Had more than a week offline? 5%
Which puts me in the 5%. For now at least.
None of this is news to any of us, of course. If it’s something which worries you having a plan to manage your online time might be an idea. If you’ve already cracked getting the balance right then please write a post for comms2point0.co.uk so that we can share your tips with others.
Will I stick to my plan? Hopefully, time will tell.
Although I worked quite late typing this post up tonight on my laptop. Oh the irony.
Thanks to @philjewitt @albfreeman @DyfrigWilliams @emmarodgers @katepritchard @crystal23tipps and @kate_bob for encouraging me to post this one.
Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd