Happy National Day of Unplugging!

When was the last time you turned off every beeping personal device  -- phone, email, laptop, iPod -- and were unreachable and untouched by media for a defined period of time?  Does the mere thought of doing this give you hives?

The Jewish nonprofit organization Reboot is suggesting we endure the hives this weekend, declaring a National Day of Unplugging for 24 hours starting at sundown tonight.  In accordance with the Jewish practice of shabbat, or sabbath, Reboot suggest that Jews and non-Jews alike experience what it is like to disconnect from technology and reconnect with the non-technological aspects of life.

Striking a similar chord, Peter Bregman's blog this week at Harvard Business Review focused on unplugging during vacation.   He relates what happened when he completely unplugged during a week-long camping trip in the Grand Canyon:

When I returned to civilization — and a phone — I had over 50 messages. But here's what I found most interesting: the first half of the messages all raised problems that needed to be resolved and the second half were the same people telling me not to worry about the first half because they had resolved the problems on their own.

In this way, unplugging can be an exercise in humility.  Yes, you are important -- but not so important that the world will stop turning if you unplug for a day or a week.

Besides a right-sized ego, what are some of the other benefits of unplugging?

Break the "always available" cycle. At my last job, I made myself available at all times to deal with potential work issues.  This was partly due to a culture (to which I contributed) of emailing among colleagues at all hours of the night and over the weekend. Some of these late-night missives were both important and urgent; most were not. By unplugging even for 24 hours, I was able to temporarily sidestep this dynamic and remind myself that it was okay to not be consumed by work 24/7.

Curb attention-splitting, and focus on the here-and-now. Until I practiced unplugging, I didn't fully realize how much I was splitting my attention between the present moment and a colorful, tiny screen.  Turns out a game of  Scrabble is more pleasurable when I am  not checking text messages during my opponent's turn.

Make smarter decisions. You might consider using your unplugged time to do deep thinking about pressing issues in your life.  Why?  Because being less distracted by technology may actually make you a smarter problem-solver. Check out the results of this UK study on the effects of technological distraction (via David Rock):

Eighty volunteers were asked to carry out problem solving tasks, firstly in a quiet environment and then while being bombarded with new emails and phone calls. Although they were told not to respond to any messages, researchers found that their attention was significantly disturbed.  Alarmingly, the average IQ was reduced by 10 points - double the amount seen in studies involving cannabis users... [further,] ...working amid a barrage of incoming information can reduce a person's ability to focus as much as losing a night's sleep.

Remove a major unconscious time-suck. I lose a lot of time to being online.  For others it may be getting sucked into TV or playing Tetris on their phones.  Often this happens unconsciously -- before we know it, it's been 2 hours in front of the screen.  When I unplug and remove the option of getting sucked into the internet, I feel freer to make more conscious choices about how I spend my time.

Rest and re-envision.  A pause in our normal routines can provide space for rest and reflection. As Mordechai Kaplan wrote,

An artist cannot be continuously wielding his brush.  He must stop at times in his painting to freshen his vision of the object, the meaning of which he wishes to express on his canvas.  Living is also an art.

Good luck unplugging, and reconnecting with the art of living.

Have you unplugged recently?  How did it effect you?

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