3 Lessons Learned From 6 Days Off The Grid

No Internet | Flickr | marcelograciolliI just returned from 6 days off the grid. Kristina, Kristina’s mom, Eva and I joined a few other couples in Cozumel. For those that know me, I love being connected. I love email, Twitter, Facebook, IM, text, phone, etc. I love people. So, 6 days without a cell phone, computer or connection to the internet made me a bit anxious.

However, I was committed to not spending my vacation tied to my cell phone or MacBook. I took all of the “necessary” steps including setting up my out of office alert. I normally just set one for work, but considering I send/receive work email from my personal gmail account too, I decided to create an auto-reply for both accounts. I sent an email to my family that included a link to the resort we were staying at. I also informed them that I would not have my phone or access to email. I tweeted that I would be off the grid and posted a similar message on my Facebook profile. I did one last check of email as we were boarding the flight to Mexico.

For the next 6 days, I was technology-free. I had no idea what time it was (my “watch” is my iPhone), nor did I really care! Speaking of my iPhone, something strange happened a few times while in Mexico. I could have sworn that my phone was vibrating in my pocket. I actually reached into my pocket to check my phone (which was off & locked in the room safe). Weird.

One the plane back from Mexico, I began to reflect on what it was like to be disconnected for 6 days. Normally, I would have pulled out my iPhone or MacBook and start blogging. Instead, I used the old fashioned pen & paper. Below are 3 lessons I learned from 6 days off the grid.

Lesson 1: Email Can Wait

I’m borderline addicted to email – see #2. My iPhone makes it (too) easy to constantly check for new messages. I admit that it’s a problem. First step to recovery, right? So you can imagine what it was like sans email for 6 days. Amazingly enough, I didn’t think about my inbox one time while I was gone. Okay, maybe a few times, but I immediately blocked it out.

I came back to over 800 emails – personal and Blue Sky Factory. This does not include threaded emails (conversations) or messages that bypass the inbox due to a filter. I spent a few hours plowing through my emails and deleted nearly 70% without even opening. Yikes, right? Nearly 3/4 of emails I received over a 6 day period were not even worthy of an open. Of the remaining 30%, none of them were mission critical; none were emails that could not wait until I was back.

Lesson Learned: Email can wait. As much as I love email (heck, it’s my job!), we survived before email and can live without it for a few days.

Lesson 2: Family Is #1

I know that this is an obvious one (see #6). However, spending 6 days with Kristina and Eva really made me realize (again) that family really is the most important thing in the world. More important than email. More important than work. More important than anything. By not constantly checking email or my cell phone, I was actually able to uninterrupted time with Kristina and Eva. I loved it.

Lesson Learned: More than anything, it reinforced what I know to be true. Family. Family. Family. Then everything else.

Lesson 3: Technology Kicks Ass, But…

…life continues without it. Yes. It’s true. As much as I love technology, love to be connected all the time, it was great to be disconnected. It was wonderful to not be staring at a computer screen or my iPhone screen. It was wonderful to hear the sound of the ocean, to see other people, to not have my fingers glued to a keyboard or my thumbs tapping away on my phone.

Some days I think we’ve gone a bit overboard with our reliance on technology – myself included. Can you imagine a world where you had to pull over and ask for directions as opposed to using Google Maps on your phone or some other GPS device? What about having to make plans to meet someone ahead of time instead of saying you’ll call/text when you get there? (Note: For those of you reading this now who are under 20 years old, that’s how we used to do things in the “old days.”)

While in Mexico, we had to ask for directions & use a map (paper version). We were forced to make plans ahead of time to meet at a certain location at a certain time. Guess what? It worked! We were successful without the use of 21st century technology. Cool, huh?

Lesson Learned: Our parents & grandparents all survived without these “new” technologies. We can too!

What About You?

Have you 100% unplugged on a recent vacation? Did you experience some of the pre-trip anxieties like I did? Any lessons learned upon your retun to the online/connected world? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Image: Flickr – marcelograciolli

DJ Waldow
@djwaldow

16 comments
Ari Herzog
Ari Herzog

An email tip I've experimented and followed the past 12 months is to only check email messages 2-3 times a day. Depending on your business depends if you can self-control yourself. I *send* emails throughout the day with a Firefox bookmarklet that opens a pop-up window showing only the fields to fill out to send a message; but I look at what was received and reply back as necessary less frequently.

I also go to sleep only after reducing my inbox to zero, whether by replying, moving to a 'to do' folder, or deleting.

Veronica Maria Jarski
Veronica Maria Jarski

Oh, my. Your dad's comment made me laugh aloud!

And these are great points to remember. Recently, I heard someone give a talk and ask people, "Do you want to be known as a parent who was always staring at the computer?" It reminded me that, yes, I can celebrate technology and social media (I love them!), but when the kids are around, the kids trump technology. I'll unplug ... the technology can wait til later.

debraellis
debraellis

Hi DJ,

It sounds like a wonderful trip. I've started the New Year with an unplug one day a week resolution. It's hard to do, but the time spent with my family and thinking about life without technology makes it worth the effort.

Wwaldow
Wwaldow

At my age sometimes i'm unplugged, and don't even know it!! Does that count?

DebbieCranberryfries
DebbieCranberryfries

As the mom of a busy family I love that I have a smartphone that can keep me connected when I'm out and about. HOWEVER I'm VERY careful about unplugging and spending time with the kids when they're home from school. And ALWAYS on vacation. Great article.

Louise Thompson
Louise Thompson

I'm undergoing something similar during a short vacation in Hawaii. Leaving my iPhone in the car during a day at the beach yesterday. Ok, it was a Saturday, but baby steps, right? There's something about the ocean that puts a lot of things in perspective, our over-reliance on technology being one of them. When you realize your tiny place in the world, beside the might and majesty of nature, it makes that "urgent" email a little less pressing. Having said that, I'm still enjoying having my phone with me for sharing vacay snaps instantly and communicating with friends while I'm away. I'm just realizing i don't have to chec it every five minutes! Every hour or so for now. Like I said, baby steps!

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Ari: Great tip. I've tried to do that before too. It can be *very* effective. However, you have to "train" those who send you email to know that you will not reply instantaneously. But I agree, it's doable.

Impressive that you can go to InboxZero every night. I've been there before, but sometimes more important things come up (like family!) that prevent me from going to zero before I go to sleep.

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

My dad is a pretty funny dude. And yes, I agree, "kids trump technology!" Well said.

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

LOVE it. Please let me know how it goes. Will you be in Austin next week for MP?

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Thanks for your comments, Debbie. As a new dad, I've really changed my focus to be more about family. A few months ago - pre-November 15th (http://socialbutterflyguy.com/.../) I found myself checking my iPhone while playing with my daughter. TERRIBLE habit. That has ended - for the most part.

Thanks again for weighing in. Family First!

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Baby steps OR (as I did) cold turkey! Whatever works best for you. I do agree that I missed capturing some of the moments on my iPhone (vid/cam), but had my Canon S90 with me to take the best pictures. Not essential to share them immediately, right?

Thanks for your comments and perspective!

debraellis
debraellis

No. I hate that I'll miss seeing you. Other commitments prevail.

Paul Leroux at QNX
Paul Leroux at QNX

For me, unplugging means I actually crack open a book (and enjoy it), hang around doing nothing (and enjoy it), and see things what would normally escape my notice (and enjoy it). On my last vacation, I didn't bring an S90, but I did bring along its first cousin, an G11. I ended taking photos like this: http://onqpl.blogspot.com/2010... -- which I really enjoyed!

Paul Leroux at QNX
Paul Leroux at QNX

And the really cool thing about unplugging for real is that, even if you don't read the book(s) you brought along... well, that's okay, too!

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

First, COOL picture. Love that. Originally, this post was going to include "reading a book" as one of the lessons learned. I'm not much of a reader, but thanks to my wife, I'm becoming more of one. Actually finished the 3rd Stieg Larsson book as well as Content Rules: http://blog.blueskyfactory.com.../ - So I agree - READING!

Thanks for your comments.