Making time to go offline is never easy. There’s almost never a “right time” to do it; you might lose opportunities or even business while disconnecting.
And yet, if you don’t actively look for ways to disconnect, it’s not very likely to happen by itself.
We have all accepted that eating well and exercising are important to be in great physical shape. We’re now also starting to take better care of our minds by managing our attention.
Our own attention is a scarce commodity. Where we focus our attention is how we feed our minds.
Going offline helps to clear things up a bit more for me. So in 2015, I completed my second transatlantic sailing trip.
I sailed across the North Atlantic ocean for 21 days from St Martin (Caribbean) to Horta (Azores Island). I would love to share what I learned through going offline.
Firing myself for a month
I was lucky to be able to take a month of vacation (Buffer generously offers unlimited vacation time) to go offline and have my brother and business partner cover all my other commitments. My friend Arthur, a fellow crew member for this sailing trip, was on sabbatical (another great way to disconnect). Going offline felt like “firing myself” for a month. And it was great! It’s a brilliant exercise to step back and reflect on what I do. Here are the questions I asked myself when I went offline:
- What activities do I enjoy the most?
- What impact does my involvement have on my business — i.e. can I delegate?
- If I stop showing up tomorrow, what impact does it have for the team and for users?
Asking those questions can be scary, but it’s all about finding out where your efforts will be the most valuable—both for you and your company. If someone else can do that task better than you, then that’s awesome! If you particularly like doing this other task, then it’s probably a good idea to keep doing it. Being honest with yourself will help you focus on what’s most important upon your return, and help you find what you are most passionate about.
Being intentional about my offline time
At home or on the road, I’m almost always connected—and it’s invaluable, especially as a frequent traveler. We’re now able to fly to any country and stay plugged into the global grid. Most places we visit have WiFi/4G. We’re connected at all times.
I’m grateful for this, and yet in some ways the internet is so ubiquitous that going offline can be tricky. I still wish to be able to sometimes step away from it all to cultivate my own learnings and discoveries — as well as serendipity.
I chose to be on a boat — for you, it might be on a mountain or in a jungle.
Whatever you choose, I’ve found that it’s key to be intentional about going offline. When the internet is one tap or app away, it’s tricky not to default to it! For instance, Outsite.co offers camps to get away and disconnect in California.
If my environment did not have me fully, physically disconnected, I would probably have “checked on things” online after a few days.
Disengaging with your current mindset and existing habits, such as checking our phones, takes time — it took me 3 to 5 days to start feeling disconnected from my day-to-day activities, even with the sailing keeping us crazy busy.
At the end of the sailing trip, we reached the island of Horta and then I flew back to Paris, my hometown, and fell asleep around 1 a.m.
A few hours later, a familiar sound woke me up — raindrops were falling on my Velux window.
Before I opened my eyes, a few thoughts crossed my mind:
“Rain… it’s too bad that the cockpit is going to be wet during my watch… I wonder if they have changed the sails just yet?”
Moments later, I opened my eyes and realized that I wasn’t on a boat anymore — I was back in Paris, in the safety of my flat.
It’s amazing to see how fast we adapt to both hardship and convenience, and how our behavior changes accordingly—our environment influences our actions.
Taking my learnings back online
The following day, I was fully back to the city life and I started thinking about my attention span: When I wake up in the morning, how long before I grab my phone?
“79% of smartphone owners check their device within 15 minutes of waking up every morning.” — Nir Eyal
Going offline trains your attention by allowing you to only react to the information you currently have — with no addition from the external world. It’s the opposite of getting notifications.
Going back to work after a month-long disconnected trip is something I’m very grateful for: It felt amazing and refreshing. The experience helped me have a gut-check of how everything felt to me and identify what projects and activities excites me most.
When I got back, I made sure to start focusing on tasks that I enjoyed more, and on which I could have the most impact.
Going offline was also great for my creativity. On most mornings, around 5 a.m., we would use our headlamps to write thoughts and ideas on paper — it helped me come up with new thoughts and business ideas.
As a result, I’m now trying to nap or meditate every day and I have started writing a book, journaling more and play with coloring books. Picking up a new skill or practicing an activity helps me being fully present.
As I was finishing this article, I sat on a Paris-New York flight and looked out the window: Looking at the Atlantic Ocean brought back many memories!
Then, the cabin crew announced that we would be one hour behind schedule. I couldn’t help but smile when I realized that that’s a good 20 days faster than our last Atlantic crossing!