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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

Completely Unplugging Just Didn't Work for Me—But Here's What Did

I had it all figured out. My fiancé, Steve, and I would arrive in Vermont the Monday after Christmas, and for three days, I’d unplug. I’d ski by day, enjoy leisurely dinners afterward, and read and drink wine by night. I’d take pictures of the scenery and Steve’s snowboarding moves, but I’d wait to post them on Instagram once I’d rejoined the masses on social media.

My out of office message was primed, and I was fairly certain my boss wasn’t expecting anything from me during the office closure. Since I was barely a month into this new job, however, I gave myself clearance to check my work email once or twice during the online hiatus and respond if anything was pressing.

On Tuesday morning, I was ready to go—or, let go, as it were. I’d read that it can be helpful to keep a detox journal and to record feelings of anxiety or boredom while disconnecting from the online world. If I felt like hopping onto Facebook or tweeting about something, I should write that down instead of updating my status or posting on Twitter.

Since I planned to be on skis for the better part of the day, I wasn’t worried about ennui. In fact, I was really looking forward to going off the grid for a few days. I wanted to recharge and give my over-exposed brain a rest.

But a couple of problems presented themselves right away. The first was how to deal with text messages. I’d already permitted use of my phone (pictures) and couldn’t turn it off because it was also a way to communicate with Steve if we somehow got separated post ski/snowboard run. Furthermore, I hadn’t made any kind of announcement on social media, so it felt rude to ignore my parents and friends’ texts. I decided then that infrequent texting was permissible.

The second problem arose when my fiancé asked me where we were going for dinner that night. I’m the reservationist, the restaurant-finder and chooser in our relationship. It’s a role, as someone who cares deeply about what and where she eats, I relish. Besides, I couldn’t exactly tell him, “Sorry, that’s your job now.” Shifting the responsibility on Steve didn’t feel very partner-y on a vacation with just the two of us.

And so I made yet another allowance. I went on TripAdvisor and searched for dining options close to us. I read reviews and called to secure a reservation at a fondue restaurant that boasted of its Swiss authenticity.

Later that evening, when my S.O. encouraged me to research the skis I’d demoed earlier that day, skis that could turn into my Christmas present from him, I felt that I could not refuse. So online I went, Googling the skis and reading user comments.

How was I unplugging, you ask? Well, I decided that all social media tools were off-limits. If I needed to hop online in an effort to contribute to the vacation (What were the projected conditions for the next two days? Where could we buy the coveted Heady Topper IPA?), I would do so. If Google Maps helped us get to the dinner that Steve was driving us to, then obviously I could use the tool on my iPhone. It’d be rude and selfish to burden him with all this extra stuff just because I wanted to disconnect.

It may not have been the most impressive unplug, but I am happy to report that once I’d comfortably accepted my terms of it, I felt good. I stayed off LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. I even (and this, my friends, took some great will) steered clear of Facebook after Steve posted a vague photo of me on a hospital bed covered by a sheet. Although I was certain that concerned friends and family members wanted to know what happened and if I was OK, I steeled myself from posting an update. I answered anxious texts and instructed Steve to tell our audience that I was fine. My busted toe and I would survive.

At night, instead of wasting precious reading minutes scrolling through Instagram feeds I really didn’t care about, I pored over Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, a book I’d been wanting to get into for a while. In the car one afternoon, on our way to a barbecue joint in the next town over, I had a very present conversation with Steve that didn’t involve any “uh huhs” or “Sorry, can you say that again?” mumbles that were a sure sign that I’d been too busy scrolling through my Twitter feed to hear what he’d been saying. I liked not getting caught up with what everyone else was doing and living my own life, hour by hour, day by day.

Now, in general, I try to be a present person and can easily enjoy a meal out without once taking my phone out of my bag. I would never dream of checking my messages or email at the theater. I avoid grabbing for it in the middle of the night when Mother Nature calls, and I will sometimes run errands on Saturday or Sunday in my neighborhood sans phone.

But, in spite of these small pats on the back, I know I am too reliant on my devices. I scroll through Facebook out of boredom (even though I could be reading something worthwhile), and I shop online for stuff I don’t need during commercials (when I could be, I don’t know, doing crunches). I check my email more often than is necessary, and I admit I browse WebMD too much.

If any of this sounds familiar, maybe it’s time you embark on your own unplugging experiment. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Maybe you start out not going on Snapchat until after 5 PM. Perhaps you take one day a week where you don’t open the Instagram app on your phone. No email on Sunday until 3 PM. Whatever you do, you should, in the end, feel good about it and the way it adds to your productivity (or, on the flip side, your attempts at relaxing or enjoying yourself on vacation).

Could be that you finally write those thank-you cards. Or fold the pile of laundry that you’ve been picking from for the last week. The only rule is to do what feels right to you, and hopefully, like me, you’ll emerge feeling like your time away was time well spent.

Photo of woman reading a book courtesy of Shutterstock.