Jilly: Switching Off

Digital detoxHolidays are hard work, and the season is upon us. Before the partying starts, there are days and weeks of purchasing, scheduling, decorating, catering, and negotiating, usually fitted around the day job or other regular responsibilities. A traditional holiday celebration requires no small amount of planning and effort, so it is with some trepidation that I suggest an addition to your seasonal check-list: build in a digital time-out.

The idea isn’t a new one. There are companies that offer tech-free holiday retreats. Type the phrase ‘digital detox’ into the search engine of your choice and you’ll find page after page listing the many benefits of taking a break from today’s super-connected world. The irony of that (and of this post, for that matter) isn’t lost on me, but I’m not suggesting you give away your laptop and disconnect your phone. It’s just that the holidays, a time of year when normal routines are suspended anyway, offer the perfect opportunity to experiment with digital down-time. Not really a detox, more of a de-stress.

Below are my strictly unofficial, unscientific thoughts on why I think it would be worth a try.

Focus on Your Friends and Family

This time of year is the perfect opportunity to focus on and reinforce the deepest, strongest relationships in your life. Some of the people you share the holidays with may not even be your favorite people, and you may not be theirs, but they are the ones who’d be there for you when the smelly stuff hits the air conditioning. Every time you take a moment to read a message, process it and maybe post a response, chances are you’re prioritizing wide and shallow over the most important people in your community, and you’re telegraphing that message too. The flesh and blood people in front of you deserve your undivided attention.

Refresh Your Brain

Most digital engagement is familiar and repetitive, an auto-pilot trip down well-worn channels. Following that routine during the holidays is the way to keep yourself stuck in a mental rut. Instead, you could give those neural pathways a rest, shake things up, take on something challenging and unfamiliar – a jigsaw puzzle, a quiz, a new recipe, even reading a new author or trying a genre you’d never normally read – and encourage your mind to make new connections that will leave you feeling stimulated and inventive when you return to the nine-to-five.

Prioritize Play

Most of us are conditioned to spend our time productively, and to feel guilty when we take a break (I know I do). Even when I do something creative, I’m usually working towards an end goal – a short story, a poem, an outline. Weirdly, spending time online feels somehow productive, because I’m engaged and busy. Yeah, I know, that’s a con. I’d like to replace some of my faux-productive digital time with play for its own sake. Maybe I’ll doodle, or throw words together because I like them, not because I plan to do anything with them. I’d like to be more open to break-out ideas, and I have the feeling that if I give myself permission to mess around, the Girls might spring some surprises.

Take a Step Back

Some of my best insights about my life – goals, family, career, everything – have come when I’ve been on trekking or bird-watching trips in places where there’s no electricity, let alone a phone signal. A little distance seems to give the sub-conscious permission to think the unthinkable, and what better time to come up with life-changing plans than just before the new year starts?

Let the Good Ideas Hatch

The best ideas take time to develop. There may be a whole slew of them, lurking way down, and they’re more likely to surface if you give them breathing room. If you’re checking your messages or emails every few minutes, the good stuff won’t get the love and attention it needs to grow into something amazing.

I’m not suggesting you go offline for the whole holiday, but maybe try one whole day, or one hour at the same time every day, or whatever fits best with your routine. I’m going to give it a go, in the hope that I start the new year brimful of enthusiasm, new ideas and unexpected possibilities. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Did you ever take a digital holiday, voluntarily or otherwise? Did you notice any difference?

Is it something you’d consider? If not, why not?

8 thoughts on “Jilly: Switching Off

  1. Great post Jilly and yes, I’ve taken a few digital holidays in the past and they have been great, once the feeling of being disconnected has worn off. One thing I noticed is when you take a digital break, of any length, it is eye-opening to see just how much time those digital interactions were taking. An internet search here, some Facebook posts there, a text message conversation – the time really adds up. Taking a break can be a good way to get a clear picture of how you are really spending your time and can give a chance to do a bit of a “reboot” in addition to the other benefits you’ve listed above.

    • I suspect I’m going to be horrified when I figure out how much time I waste on digital noodling around. I’ve also started to use my phone as an alarm clock (my traditional one broke a while ago) so I’ve got into the habit of putting it at the side of my bed and that’s all too tempting. I think I’d better buy myself a new clock as part of my “reboot”.

  2. In a related topic, I updated my desktop to Windows 10 this weekend (because Microsoft wouldn’t stop badgering me) and MS took away Spider Solitaire. I was pretty pissed when I realized it was gone–it was Thanksgiving night, I’d had a rough day (3 trips to the grocery to make two not-very-good pies and almost accidentally killing my developmentally disabled brother) and was really looking forward to a half hour of spider solitaire to unwind. I looked at my snazzy new desktop. No spider solitaire..

    Now that I’m through jonesing, though, I kind of glad it’s gone. I’t been a huge time suck in the past. The faintest whiff of writer’s block and I’d seek the consolation of losing over and over at that addictive game.

    This weekend, the spider solitaire. Next weekend, maybe Facebook,, email and Google.

    • I love spider solitaire, too, but I limit it to at night before going to bed. I can usually only get 1 or 2 rounds in before I crash. However, playing SS means I’m not reading, which I really should be doing, to keep up with the competition and see what other amazing (and not so amazing) writers are doing out there.

      I have had to establish a rule when in the car with my husband that he has to shut the phone off. He’s so addicted to it and instead of the car ride being good talking time, it’s me sitting quietly, driving (steaming!), and him watching whatever the heck he’s pulled up from YouTube. It’s incredibly disconnecting and I’ve been sorely tempted to throw his phone out the window.

      My sister and her friends have started a thing where when they go out to dinner, they stack the phones in the middle of the table. Whomever picks up first has to pay the bill. They all have a special ring/ding for the babysitter so they know if there’s a problem at home (and naturally, that’s the exception — the ONLY exception), but she says it makes for a much nicer evening out when everyone is engaged.

      I have no problem disconnecting…my problem is getting back in the digital saddle (and caught up with everything that’s happened over the last X number of days) when I do reconnect. But then I have to wonder how much of that is really important? I’m not sure…probably not very much.

  3. Being connected is so nice and cozy, though! My family is far-flung, so we keep in touch via email and social networks. It’s also my Idea Box for day-work and story. And on top of that, it is the non-calorie reward for having a lousy day. Talking to me about limiting the internet is a little bit like telling a cocaine addict that there’s to be a No-Blow Thursday next week. It makes me frightened and cranky!

    And that all means that it probably should be done.

    OK, I take up the challenge. I’m going to not touch the internet after 8 p.m. And no internet before 30 minutes of looking at my writing. (I don’t want to make things too hard!!) And, I’ll make a list to help me through the tough times.

    Evening treats instead of internet:
    A cup of chamomile tea.
    A chapter of book (Somehow, I have started Hogfather, The Scarlet Letter and The Mysteries of Udolpho. I want to finish all three in December. Udolpho is finally getting exciting!).
    Crochet project. Either a few rows of a crocodile stitch scarf, or a mini-ornament.
    Ukulele practice (I just started last month, and I’m crazy about it!)
    LOL, actually write some book. Sketch a character, write a scene out of order, follow a writing prompt — make a list of writing prompts. Do it in a notebook to be transferred into the computer in the morning (and yes, this can count as my 30 minutes of “writing time” before morning internet. A low bar benefits me.)

    And I’ll put a little banner over my camera eye of the computer asking if I’ve written today. From experience, I know it will annoy the hell out of me — especially if I haven’t written, but feel “deprived” and needing a little fix of that electronic smack. But if I actually write, it may make me feel nice and smug.

    OK. Let’s see what happens.

  4. Pingback: Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints – Let the Randomness Begin! | Eight Ladies Writing

  5. Pingback: Elizabeth: Time to Refresh and Refocus – Eight Ladies Writing

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