January 9, 2011

Why you should take a digital break

Amplify’d from www.dumblittleman.com
We live in a highly digital world today. Our work requires us to use the internet in one way or another. We readily turn to emails, social media and chat messengers for daily communications, sometimes more so than face-to-face contact. Not only that, with 3G and wireless technology, we can now be connected even when we're on the go.
I'm probably a good example of what you'd call a web junkie. I'm connected to the web almost all the time, whether I'm at home, working or on the go. For one, a lot of my work is based online. I run a personal development blog which I update regularly; I do 1-1 coaching with international clients via Skype and recently I started courses online too. In my leisure time, I surf interesting sites, watch online videos and chat with others. When I've nothing to do, my first instinct is get on the web to see what's available.
Counter-productive effects of being connected
While I found this 24/7 connectivity useful initially, after a while it felt more distracting than helpful. For example, when I'm online, I'd catch myself checking my emails, Twitter, Facebook, blog stats, etc., for updates every 10-15 minutes, even though I'm in the middle of other work.

The excessive connectivity has created false urgency where I feel the need to know what's happening lest I miss something important. Not only that, the web is so vast that it's easy to get lost in the surfing. In reading a site, one link leads to the next, and the next, and before I know it I've already spent a good chunk of time surfing sites that are not related to what I'm supposed to do. This would happen several times throughout the day.

It was counter-productive - While it seemed like i was very busy switching between checking/replying websites and doing my work, I wasn't getting much done. Administrative and micro-work yes, but not the important stuff.
Taking breaks from the digital world
So lately I tried an experiment to take a break from the digital world. Rather than work online, I disconnected and went to a quiet spot to work. There was a huge difference. Interestingly, these short, 45-60 minute breaks easily became my most productive hours for the day. My thoughts flow much easier; I’m not thinking about anything except about what I’m working on; I’m more big picture focused, and there’s just nothing distracting me.

Today, I make it a point to take digital breaks several times a day. I encourage you to try it for 30 minutes and see how it works out for you. It doesn't matter even if your work is online-based - mine is and I'm able to disconnect with no problem. Here are some tips on how you can do that:
  1. Know what exactly you want to do online.
    Without setting this intention clear, you can be easily distracted by the barrage of things online once you log on. Write a list of things you want to do that can only be done online. For example, say you're writing a report and you need to research on the topic. You also want to check your mail for updates from clients. Then, follow this list and strike each item off once it's completed. If you come across something online that's not in your list, that's a distraction and you should ignore it.
  1. Disconnect when you're done.
    Once your work online is done, you can disconnect and work on your priorities. While some of us may feel uneasy disconnecting, remember you do that every day. Think about how you go to sleep daily and things are fine when you wake up. That’s 5-8 hours of dis-connectivity right there! So don't worry about missing out on things when you go offline.
  1. Get away from your desk.
    If you want, get a change in environment. I enjoy working in quiet cafes, my living room, and recently I'm trying out quiet spots in my neighborhood. I realize different environments trigger different ideas and these are helpful for my work.
  1. Work on your priorities during the break.
    This is a great time to read on the books you’ve been meaning to read, work on those Quadrant 2 goals, brainstorm on ideas and think about the long term plans you've been putting off. It can be that upcoming vacation plan, your goals for the next 3 months, some pending issues that need to be addressed, the big project that’s coming up, etc.
  1. Go with the flow.
    Since there are no distractions you'll find ideas emerging readily. Explore each of them. Chances are you’ll get some really amazing ideas that you’ve never considered before. Some of my biggest breakthrough ideas come when I'm away from the web. For example last week, I got a great idea for my next book, and came up with the outline and content idea all during a 30-minute break.
  1. Wrap up with clear action steps.
    After you are done, pen down your next steps before you get back online. This way, you’ll be going in with a clear direction on what to do next. You might get bombarded with other messages when you go online, but follow this list to a tee and you'll be fine.
Do this whenever you feel the need to disconnect and you’ll see a great boost in your quality of life. I’m now doing it several times a day, and I find it’s extremely helpful in getting focus on what I want to do. This leads a great jump in my productivity and fulfillment.
Look at your schedule for today. Are there things you can do while offline? How about going off now to work on them? Try it for 30-45 minutes and see how it works out for you.
Read more at www.dumblittleman.com

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