Holidays 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.
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?