Earlier this month, I wrote about how to set boundaries on your smartphone. As an alleged expert on work-life balance, I whipped out my best tips for setting some ground rules, powering down, and realizing people will survive without your round-the-clock responses.
So I decided to really test the waters and live my message even more than usual. As a vacation to Portland, Oregon grew near, I screamed from the top of a mountain (or just via my blog and client emails) that I’d be powering down. Completely unplugging. No email, no phone calls, no Facebook. Nothing. Only one person in the world knew how to get a hold of me; for better or worse, that was my mother.
So what happens when the expert jumps off the deep end? Chaos. Complete and utter chaos. Oh yeah, and these five lessons:
1. Your fears really are in your head.
After I put the out-of-office up and powered down, I decided to mindlessly check Facebook and email one last time before the flight. Bad idea. I got an urgent, ASAP business email. I had to decide if I’d go back on my word or stay true to my promise. Begrudgingly, I powered back down and felt the anxiety wash over me. I worked myself up into a frenzy about the disaster I caused by my negligence.
But when I landed back in Boston and checked my email, I received nothing but praise from business partners and clients about how brave I was to do a completely unplugged trip. No business deal failed. No one desperately needed me. I was the one trapping myself the whole time.
2. Boredom is completely necessary.
I felt the phone-less sting the worst when waiting for a companion to get out of the bathroom, or while sitting alone on a train. Without a game of 2048 or some solid Pandora, I fell into an immediate boredom. But, alone with my thoughts, I found that new business ideas and writing topics just popped into my head. Boredom made room for me to reconnect with myself.
3. Without mediation, you have to be in the moment.
Without a camera on my phone, I wasn’t able to take pictures of the beautiful rose gardens or the exquisite views of Mt. Hood. But, as everyone busted out their cameras to take pictures of a waterfall, I noticed the birds chirping on a nearby tree and the way the water sounded as it splashed against the rocks. Without being able to plan my next great shot, I was forced to take in the full scope of the moment, and not just the picture-worthy quality.
4. Connections can happen offline too.
Finding out where to eat or what attractions to see without Yelp is really, really hard. Fortunately, cities are filled with proud locals who love to boast about their homes. Forced to actually interact with the natives, I met so many interesting people and learned about local places in the city that I never would have found online. Being disconnected reminded me just how connected I really can be at any time.
5. You can’t rush if you don’t know the time.
Without a clock to keep checking, I had absolute freedom ahead of me. I only knew lunchtime by the sound of growling in my stomach. I only knew nighttime by the setting of the sun. And I only knew naptime by when my feet were too tired to walk anymore. Without playing by someone else’s schedule, I learned to check in with what my body actually needed. And that might have meant missing an attraction or two — because my body never felt like rushing.
So am I tossing my iPhone in the trash from now on? Let’s get real. I was back on it the second we landed. At least for now, I’m not ready to be completely unplugged for good. But I did realize that we can power down whenever we want. I did realize how fulfilling a morning commute or lazy Saturday can be without a digital pal. I did realize how much richer moments are when you’re actually in them.
And, for now, that’s lesson enough for me.