It was one morning in early February, and I was still in that cozy place between being asleep and awake. A little voice inside me said, “Go off the grid. Take a week off from the internet. Clear your head. Get $#!% done.”
It was so clear, and so random, I knew I had to do it. I told my husband about my plan to go webfree for a week, and while I can’t remember his exact reaction, I am sure it included – aloud or in his thoughts – “Yeah, right. When pigs fly.”
The more I thought about it, the more excited I got. I set Monday, February 17 at 1:30pm PST as my starting point, and today, Sunday, February 23 at 9am PST as the end. Since preparing to go off-line is like planning for a vacation, I spent time each day the week prior getting all of my web ducks in a row (primarily scheduling social media posts).
I set some rules: email was permitted, but only accessed through Outlook or my phone. TweetDeck was okay the first few days because I ran out of time to schedule tweets. I was also allowed to check my bank accounts on my phone app. Otherwise, everything else was off-limits, including social media/web-related apps on my phone and Kindle.
What was the point of all of this? To see where my time goes. To see how much more I can accomplish in a day if I’m not site hopping. To get away from the junk-food-for-my-brain that steals my attention away from my work.
I wish I could say that with all of my new-found time, I learned a foreign language, organized my house, achieved enlightenment and discovered the meaning of life (one thing I do know: the meaning of life won’t be found online).
Instead, I read more. I caught up on emails. I had longer conversation with friends. I was more easily able to focus on one task at a time. My thoughts were more my own, rather than echoes of what I’d just read on Facebook or Twitter. I even think I slept more soundly.
Did I miss being virtually connected to the world? Sure. There were a few times I was itching to get on (really, just one page, for one second, I swear!). But overall, I missed it much less than I expected to. In fact, when the fast was over, I spent 10 minutes going to the sites I always go to, then I closed my laptop and watched “Shark Tank” while I ate breakfast.
The entire experience heightened my awareness of the importance of the internet to my business. What a wonderful time to be alive, an introvert and an entrepreneur! And, I noticed – because of its absence – the ways in which the internet was crippling my productivity and compromising my capacity to be present.
Well, NO MORE! I’m taking back my time and energy. Out with the old, in with the new…
Old Habit #1: Unlimited, cross-platform access.
Laptop, Kindle, smartphone. I can run, but I can’t hide. It’s everywhere. All the time. And I had very poor boundaries. I’m loathe to admit, but checking email and Facebook was a first-thing-last-thing-of-the-day activity for me.
New Habit #1: Boundaries!
No more checking email or social media while I’m in a prone position under warm blankets and a purring cat. And no more browsing the web while watching TV. If I want to look up something, I can use my phone. It’s a lot easier to put the phone down than the laptop. I’m sure more boundary lines will be drawn, but these are a good start.
Old Habit #2: ODing on tabs
I’ve come to realize that part of the time-suck that is the web is the capability of having multiple tabs open at once. I’ll click through and say “I’ll come back to it,” and by 11am, there are 10 or so tabs already open, sometimes more. This visually scatters my attention and pulls me away from whatever page I’m reading. Plus, often those tabs are mental junk food.
New Habit #2: Go “old school” in the browser
No more than two tabs can be open at any time, and they have to be “related.” I’d prefer to have only one open at a time, but sometimes it’s more efficient to work with pages side-by-side. I’ve been practicing this for a few days now, and it makes a huge difference in my ability to focus when I have to be online. I force myself to finish with a tab before I move to a new one. It’s like the old days, when we didn’t have tabs. Am I pining for the old days? Nah, but going back-to-basics is often a good way to correct a bad habit.
Old Habit #3: Obsessively checking stats
This is a doozy, and another one that’s almost embarrassing to admit: any site that tracked numbers, feedback, or any sort of social validation (sales, subscribers, views, likes, shares, retweets, comments, etc) was worth checking several times a day. Introverts aren’t supposed to be driven by external validation, right? We use our internal gauge to know if we’re on the right track. That’s still true on a basic level. But we (society) have become so stats oriented – how many followers? how many sales? how many likes? – when it comes to measuring our success, we’ve let the numbers be in the driver’s seat. I had a client who reflected back to me my own obsession, noticing every time someone unsubscribed or unliked her page. Oh, how I felt her pain!
New Habit #3: The forest, not the trees
No more obsessing over the comings and goings, likes and dislikes of people in my virtual universe. As I reminded my client (and myself), our success isn’t about the one person who disappeared and three who appeared on Tuesday, then the five who vanished and one who hid our post on Wednesday. What we should pay attention to is trends over time. We should remember to watch the health of the forest, rather than the individual trees. If lots of trees are dying, sure, we need to find out why. But I’m going to limit my stats surveying to once per week and trust what my gut tells me about what’s working and what’s not.
Old Habit #4: Multitasking
Remember what I wrote above about going online while watching television? That’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s become commonplace to do whatever while browsing at the same time. Waiting in line, cooking dinner, eating, listening to music… all opportunities to pull myself out of the present moment and look at just one more LOL cat or Damn You Auto-correct thread. And for introverts, multitasking is just another way of turning up the volume. We don’t realize how noisy the internet is, and when we combine that noise with the noise of another task, it can quickly compound the energetic drain.
New Habit #4: Monotasking
No more splitting my attention using the web. When I go online, I’m on for a purpose, and when I’m done, I’m done. Even writing this post without clicking away every few minutes to read the news, check the weather or see what I’m missing on Twitter is WORK. I’m even having to resist being pulled into email or an outline I’m working on. The result of my discipline? I’m finishing this post much faster than I would otherwise, and I’m in a quieter, clearer mental space. I’ve installed a simple timer app on my laptop (Activity Timer) to give me additional structure and accountability. I can stay focused on one thing, on or offline, for 25 minutes, right? Right!
Old Habit #5: Googling, then thinking
I first noticed this habit a few years ago when we were in Maui. As my husband and I walked among the palm trees, we noticed these wide metal bands wrapped around the tree trunks about three-quarters of the way up each trunk. What on earth could those be for? I did what I always do: I pulled out my smart phone, Googled “metal rings on palm trees” and had my answer in about five seconds. And then I felt a bit sad. Why? …
New Habit #5: Thinking, then Googling
No more mindless instant information gratification. I felt sad that day in Maui because I realized that it was intellectually lazy to Google the answer before thinking about it on my own. I could have brainstormed a bit and tried to think of possible answers before looking it up. I got an “A” for curiosity, but an “F” for creativity. This happens not only with tree bands, but with music, actors, definitions, idioms, quotes, and anything else that is easy to look up online. My husband and I practice this in one area already: when we’re listening to the classical music station in the car and turn it on mid-piece, we try to guess the work or composer. We apply logic and memory to try to figure out the answer. It’s a much more satisfying exercise than to pull up the app on my phone (Shazam) to find out “what’s playing now.” The process forces us to revive neural connections in our brain that would go dormant otherwise. So the bottom line is to think first, Google later.
If you are ever tempted to go offline for a day, a week, a month, DO IT. And do it regularly. You’ll notice your own set of habits and temptations. You’ll shift your relationship with the web. It will be more about utility and efficiency, and less about procrastination and going down the rabbit hole.
As for me, I’ve felt a profound difference in the way I relate to the web. It’s still a place to go for watching a guy strung out on anesthetics and laughing until my face leaks. And I love how it connects me to people and ideas that support my growth and business. And of course, I adore how it allows me to share in my own introverted way through lovely tools like blogs and social media. But I’m going to be much more discerning about how I spend my time online. I’m going to make sure it’s working for me. I’m the boss of it, instead of it being the boss of me.
Have you ever taken a true digital vacation? What was your experience? Please share in the comments!
PS: If you are curious about the “metal bands on palm trees,” I invite you to think about it first before rushing to Google ;-).
Annie Bomke says
I’m totally guilty of all of these things, especially Bad Habits 3 & 5!
The Introvert Entrepreneur says
Annie, so glad I’m not alone in those 🙂 Have you read http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/ ? It’s more about how we divide our attention, but also applies to how we stop thinking and just click our way to answers.
Annie Bomke says
No, I haven’t read it. The scary thing is I’m trying to read it now, and it just seems too long and complex for me to focus on it. You’d think an article about shortened attention spans would be shorter. 😉
This is exactly what I decided to do the last few days and as an introvert I observed the exact same effects on myself!!!
Its great to see an article about it from a reputed introvert.
Wow. Congratulations Beth. Oh boy, not sure I could do it, but very attracted to the idea. I love the idea of having less tabs open and I am so guilty of multi-tasking. In fact, as I was reading your article, which I was loving, I felt the usual pull to do something else for a bit. But, I said, no, stay with the article and it was very satisfying. I focused just on reading your article and was able to really absorb it.
You’re my inspiration!!!
Jason Smith says
This is an awesome post, Beth. Thank you! You have identified these habits perfectly. I can see myself in each of them. I appreciate your solutions, too, and plan to give them a try. I try to give myself a “technology sabbath” for at least part of the weekend, but it doesn’t always happen. Thanks again for this.
I actually googled “metal bands on trees” before the end of the article ;'(
I also want to add that services like “Pocket” and “Readability” also serve as a tab to me. So most times while i have articles to read, i simply save to “Pocket” and then when i get into “Pocket” to read, i see tons of articles saved that i don’t know where to start that i end up closing the app for another time, or end up rushing through some.
So i guess its just appropriate to finish with a tab before moving to a new one.
Barbara Rath says
It was enjoyable to read a post with so few links, fully formed sentences and great tips for making the most of my time. The links and the stats are my bane, and I will be using your ideas to avoid both in the future. Thanks.