A while back I made myself unavailable for a week. That is, I was still connected and online, but I turned off all of the various services which make me visible and available to others.
This was a bit of an experiment, and these were the three things I learned:
1. I was much more available than I realised
I made a list of the various apps that needed to be disabled, and was slightly shocked by how many things I had given permission to interrupt me:
- Phone (even in a normal week I normally only answer calls from people in my address book, but in this week I decided to turn my phone off completely for most of the time)
- Email (I use Triage, which makes it easier to disconnect, but if you have push mail setup on your iPhone you’ll need to turn that off, and turn off the unread count badges if you didn’t already – I also set an out of office auto-responder, so anybody who did email me would at least know I wasn’t paying attention)
- Twitter (I took the slightly extreme step of deleting the app from my phone, so I wouldn’t be tempted to check in during downtimes)
- iMessage (if you have this setup on multiple devices you’ll need to disable each independently – on OSX you’ll need to delete the account from iMessage completely otherwise you’ll still get notifications)
- Skype (if you have the Skype app on your iPhone/iPad make sure it’s not running in the background)
- Google Chat/Talk/Hangout, or whatever it is they are calling it at the moment (I had this installed and logged in to both of my Google accounts on both my phone and laptop browser)
- Dropbox/Google Drive (I disabled the notifications which pop-up when others update files in shared folders)
There were a bunch of others which I no longer use, but which were still setup for notifications – including Facebook. LinkedIn, Trade Me, Game Center (which I only ever really used for LetterPress), MessageMe, and Podcasts.
I also made an effort to contact everybody who was likely to try and get in touch during the week in advance, so they wouldn’t be frustrated by my unavailability, and left an out-of-office notification on my email accounts suggesting people call if it was urgent (I only got one call during the week).
2. The withdrawal symptoms were worse than I expected
I intentionally did some properly offline jobs the first day and a long run the second morning, to give myself a clean break from staring at a screen and all of its tempting distractions.
But, even then I was surprised how often I would reach for my phone to quickly check emails or tweets, including first thing in the morning and when I was in the middle of a conversation with people physically present. That’s not good behaviour, but useful to have that habit highlighted and hopefully now broken.
3. It wasn’t an entirely positive experience
It was lovely to be able to focus and be without distraction for a while, although in most cases I only made a minor dent in things which have languished on my to-do list for ages. At the end of the week they were quickly replaced again by more pressing things.
The main thing I discovered from the week is that very little of what I normally fill my days with is actually urgent and nearly everything that I defer is important.
That’s a little depressing…