We’ve all heard stories about the wonders of the digital sabbatical. You’ve read the one about the guy who unplugged for ninety days, or thirty, or seven, and came back with so much more perspective.
He was refreshed and recharged and finally understood the meaning of life. He’d probably also grown a beard.
I want to tell you about the time I completely unplugged, too, for a week. No, a month. Yes. Let’s go with that.
I would tell you how I walked away from email and from news and from the phone that I constantly lose anyway. I would share all the creative insight I brought home with me. I feel like a spa should be involved.
The only problem with that story is that it never happened.
Unplugging for long stretches doesn’t work well for me in this season. My digital life makes it simpler for me to keep track of schedules and activities and people and projects — but I’m still more at peace when I take regular time away.
It’s easier to stay focused on my purpose when I’m not reacting to email and news feeds and the latest Instagram hearts.
I think we all know that setting aside digital distractions is important. We all know we need stillness and quiet. It’s just the acting on that knowledge that’s difficult.
We tell ourselves we’ll take a digital break someday, even though that day never comes. We tell ourselves we’re “mostly” disconnected on evenings and weekends. We pretend we don’t rely on clickbait links and gossipy news for easy distraction. We let ourselves think we aren’t dependent on the validation of a like button.
But isn’t there a little voice inside you asking: what if? What if I slowed down? What if I savored this moment without sharing it? What if I quieted the outside voices and really listened? What if I let myself remember that there is a wider world, a longer story, a bigger purpose than the urgency of the digital world?
Disconnecting from the immediate-gratification culture of the internet is not about cutting yourself off from connection. It’s about creating intentional boundaries for your creative soul to flourish. It’s about making space for stillness and for listening.
It’s about replenishing, so you can give your whole self to what matters most to you.
It doesn’t have to look like a month in the wilderness, either. Even a short break from digital connection can help you find your own voice and follow your own compass. And as you practice unplugging, you may find it easier to take more time away.
Try one of these strategies for starting small.
1. Set office hours.
You may be at your computer for most of the day, but that doesn’t mean you have to be online and available all the time. Give yourself “office hours” for your phone and other devices, and turn them off when that time is up.
Maybe you decide you no longer check in after 7:00 p.m., or that you aren’t connected during your lunch hour each day. Any regular, set-aside pocket of time away from pings and screens can help you start a habit of intentional stillness.
2. Power down for one evening per week.
If you can’t be away every day, try disconnecting for just one evening a week. Choose a day, turn off your devices as early in the evening as you can, and don’t check in until the next morning. Your notifications and social media feeds and news will all be there waiting for you.
3. Take weekends all the way off.
You might prefer to stay connected all week, but to shut everything down for the weekend. A rhythm of highly connected days followed by a chance to be fully present in your offline world could be a satisfying balance.
4. Keep early mornings quiet.
Beginnings set the tone for what’s to come, so the way we start our days matters more than the way we spend, say, an hour in the afternoon. Try starting each morning with a time of stillness and quiet. Sit with what’s important, not with what your phone tells you is urgent.
5. Adopt a “not at special events” policy.
If it’s hard to imagine how to regularly disconnect from your digital life so you can connect with your offline world, try this: disconnect for special events.
Any time you have something to do that isn’t part of your regular routine, turn off your phone and be present for that event.
Dinner with friends? No answering text messages. At a ball game? No checking Facebook. Turn your devices off or leave them at home to remind yourself that this is time set aside to focus on what’s happening outside the digital realm.
Since you’re already out of your usual routine, it won’t feel like you’re “missing out” by not being plugged in — but you’ll still start to taste the benefits of presence and perspective that come from choosing not to be distracted.
You don’t have to take a beach vacation on a remote island to finally decide to unplug. Find a rhythm that works for you, and practice giving your soul a little more room to breathe.