Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

What I Found While Unplugged

Sky Paradise #1 by Cuatrok77 on Flickr

I participated in the National Day of Unplugging.  As I wrote in an earlier post, my plan was not to unplug completely from the digital world, but to unplug from work.  For me, that meant no blogging, Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn as they relate to writing, my current career.  I reserved the right to remain connected to the digital world for “personal use.”  A very illuminating day.

 I became obsessed with my electronics in the early morning. I thought about them all the time as I was getting ready to go out for the day.   Anyone with a psychology degree please feel free to chip in here.  Here is my interpretation: because I was focusing on being unplugged, that is what I thought about.  Digital contributions: to tell me it was raining outside, and Google Maps on my iPhone to help me get to …

…my unusual destination.  This Saturday, by coincidence, I had volunteered with a group to attend the morning service at a Jewish retirement community.  I hadn’t been to services in years.  It was surprisingly restful.  Participating in the familiar rituals helped clear my mind.  I stopped thinking about electronics, and more importantly, I stopped wondering what I would write in my post about the day.  For me, I wanted to unplug from work, and the service helped me do that.  Digital contribution: none

I connected with a resident during the service.  I walked into a chapel with rows of wheelchairs, interspersed with single empty seats.  And the woman I sat next to didn’t respond when I said hello.  I must admit it –  I was a bit apprehensive.  A few minutes earlier, I learned that many residents missed their pets so I decided to show her pictures of my cats on my iPhone.  She lit up like a Christmas tree.  Later, I learned that she was born in Russia, and doesn’t speak English.  I was very happy I took a measured approach to unplugging.  Digital contribution: pictures on the iPhone.

The Big Moment came at halftime of the Syracuse  Ohio State game.  At a time when I normally would have been on Facebook, I walked into the kitchen and talked to my wife while she cooked dinner.  I told her the latest news from our friends.  We chatted and it was wonderful.  I think it was special because there was no agenda.  I didn’t need her to do something, and she didn’t need anything from me.  Usually when we talk, it’s about her work, or my work. Or, it’s something that needs to be shared about the kids or the bills or the household.  This was just for fun, and it was wonderful.

It was a completely ordinary but irreplaceable moment that never would have happened had I not unplugged.

Did you unplug?    Tell me about your day, even if you stayed plugged in. Comment below, or confidentially here.  

Unplug From Work This Saturday and Share Your Experience

Unplug From Work and Give Your Mind a Rest

66% of people read email seven days a week and expect to receive a response the same day.*

Ouch. I admit it, I’m one of them too, but I’m better than I used to be.

When I left the corporate world, I was so addicted to checking email that I was on my Hotmail account every hour. Usually, there was nothing new except junk mail for Cialis or a Rolex watch. But I kept checking regularly for two weeks.  At that point I  channeled my addiction into Mafia Wars from Zynga.  Unplugging isn’t easy, and for me I was the only person I knew who was going cold turkey from an intense job.

The National Day of Unplugging offers a chance to unplug from email as part of a nationwide community of people.  To participate, unplug sundown Friday March 23 to sundown Saturday March 24.  The event runs sundown to sundown because it is inspired by the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sundown.  When it comes to unplugging from work, sundown Friday is a perfect time to start.

The Sabbath is a day of rest. And rest means no work. In the ancient world, most people lived an agrarian existence, and work was physical labor in the fields or tending domestic animals. But for many people today, work is mental labor. And mental labor can and does follow us anywhere.  It may only take ten minutes to check and respond to email, but the mental impact can last an hour or longer.

The National Day of Unplugging is the perfect chance to give the mind a rest. I find it much easier to try something new when I know a lot of other people are doing the same thing.

I see two related ways to unplug. The first is to unplug from everything to allow a time to contemplate life, reflect, and connect with people without the distractions of technology. While I support the general goals, I think unplugging completely may be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I use technology to connect with people. My parents live 3,000 miles away, and I regularly email or communicate on Facebook with my friends.

In my opinion, the more important issue is the separation between work and everything else.  Hence, my invitation: Join me as I unplug from work Friday night to Saturday night. For me, that means no checking Google Analytics for blog traffic, no checking email and no answering comments until Sunday. That won’t be easy, because checking every day is a habit. But I will set my out of office message, so people used to hearing back from me will know that I am unavailable until Sunday.

Whether you unplug or not, please send me a sentence or two about your experience. I’ll compile them and write a post early next week. And don’t worry about me – if I go into withdrawal, I still have Castleville. In fact, come visit my kingdom and I’ll visit yours.