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Consider a "Digital Sabbatical"

It's summer in Colorado and time for some desperately needed vacation and relaxation. 

Consider unplugging and going entirely off the grid. I did.

In today’s always-on, hyper-connected world, we find ourselves slaves to our own technological developments.  Over time, we take for granted the ability to digitally communicate with others, all the time, regardless of location.  At a certain point, information overload takes over.  It becomes too much and this needs to be acknowledged.

What if you intentionally unplug and go “off the grid” for a solid week with no access to any digital communications?  Enter the Digital Sabbatical. 

Think about it.  No cell phone, email, Facebook, Twitter – nothing.  If you are like me, you would cringe at the thought of unread emails piling up in your inbox, phone calls going unanswered or text messages clogging your cell phone.  How could anyone recover from such catastrophe after a full week?

I recently tested this theory.  I went totally dark for a week while spending time with family in the mountains.  I let my cell phone battery drain to nothing, left the laptops and tablets at home.  Anything that allowed me to communicate digitally with the outside world was intentionally left behind and unrecoverable from my location. 

Here are the results:

  • Was it hard? You bet. 
  • Was I worried I would miss something big?  Absolutely. 
  • Did I miss anything big? No.
  • Will I do it again? Definitely.
  • Did I come home to a pile of messages? No – and I’ll tell you why.

The reality is, business will go on without you.  Your company will survive just fine.  I learned some key lessons from this experiment I would like to share:

Planning – Plan your digital sabbatical, in advance and communicate clear intentions.  Let your key team members know well in advance that you will be unavailable during your time off.  Set the expectation up front and nobody should be surprised when you actually are unavailable.  This allows you and your company to mentally prepare for the certainty of your absence.

Execution – Physically separate yourself from your ability to digitally communicate.  Leave your communication devices at home or physically separated from you.  Doing this increases the likelihood that you won’t be tempted.  What about emergencies?  I had one of my kids keep their cell phone tucked away, just in case.  The point is that I was on a digital sabbatical, so my devices needed to be absent.

Mindset – Mentally, you must be fully committed.  There is no half-way.  You’re either in or out.  Instead, find something that interests you to occupy your time and attention.  Be open to the world around you.  You will see, hear and experience simple things you’ve been tuning out.  You will be surprised how open your mind can be to external stimulus that doesn’t involve annoying ringtones.

Recovery – Once you get home, you will feel uneasy, possibly even guilty that you have selfishly taken a week off the grid to recharge.  So what!  That was the point and you planned the time accordingly.  On the other side, don’t be eager to rush back into the digital world assuming you are behind on work.  This can draw you into the unhealthy trap of “shooting at every digital target that moves” right after coming home.

Reflection – You will realize the world can, and will, go on without you.  You are not so important that a week off will devastate your company, team or your reputation.  You will re-learn upon your return what truly is important and what truly isn’t.  Recalibrating to this “re learned importance” can have a positive impact on how you operate after your sabbatical.

The Feedback Loop – Write down what worked well and what didn’t.  My feedback loop is writing this article.  When you write things down, you are consciously evaluating them.  Enhance the good, learn from the bad and do better next time.

Going off the grid is a good thing and helps you physically and mentally separate yourself from work and digital distractions for a pre-defined period of time.  With proper planning and mental preparation, you will find it considerably enhances the quality of your time off and leaves you recharged.

I challenge you to commit to this process at least annually.  I know I’m in.

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Dan King

Dan King is a financial operations leader with significant experience in venture capital and private equity-backed technology companies in software, SaaS, Cloud and ecommerce business models. He began his career as a CPA with KPMG in the Silicon Valley and is active throughout the Colorado technology and small business community.  Dan can be reached at djk235@hotmail.com

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