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A Week Off the Grid

Over the past year, I’ve been hoping to try an experiment. This experiment will last a year and it started on my Holiday Break. My goal is to disconnect for one week every quarter of the year, an idea espoused by Brad Feld.

My version of One Week Off the Grid differs from Feld’s in several ways. For one, I was not motivated to try this due to relationship problems, though as with anyone I could always use work on my relationships. Nor do I feel that I work with the intensity of Feld. I don’t have an acute need for a huge stress release as I do pretty well keeping my stress levels down on a day-to-day basis. Though maybe with a week to recharge I would place myself in more intensive work situations.

My motivation was to dust off all the bad habits I’ve collected. Even if I kicked these habits for a short time, a week away would be a net benefit. I find that the cmd-tab muscle memory really gets engrained. Tests running? Check Twitter. Waiting for a chat response? Check email.

My rules were not as strict as Feld’s. My phone was on and I still accepted text messages and phone calls. My life isn’t filled with a lot of phone communication. I set up an “out of pocket” message on my email to tell anyone who needed to get in touch with me to go ahead and call if necessary. My computer did remain on, mainly because it supplies music to our Sonos. I also did cheat once to check on our bank account.

Oh, and my wife did not participate. I think it would be fun to have her be part of the experiment, going without a phone for the week as well. Perhaps if we coupled it with a vacation, which is the one time she avoids phoning and texting overly much. Of course that’s up to her if she’d like to join in.

I spent the week reading, watching movies, helping out around the house and spending lots of time with the family. I didn’t read at a Feld level; he’ll read ten or more books per week. I did read a lot for me, though, finishing three books.

The greatest benefit was breaking that muscle memory. It took a couple days to stop reflexively reaching for my iPhone during any downtime. After time passed, I didn’t miss it at all. In fact, I began regretting a lot of the time I had spent with the phone in the past year. I now have a much more relaxed relationship with Twitter. Checking my personal email is only done a few times a day, rather than tens of times a day. With all those reduced inputs, the constant pressure to check Instapaper has also subsided.

The practical benefit is great. In the past sometimes I simply could not drag myself off my iPhone after work. My kids would sit there playing as my wife is cleaning up the dinner dishes and I’m looking at pictures on Twitter of someone I’ve met once in my life playing with his kids. That ain’t right. These things are crystal clear after a few days away and I felt much more empowered to correct them than ever before.

Larger moments of spare time find me more apt to continue a book rather than checking a myriad of social networking sites. The time I’m now not on Twitter collecting interesting tidbits, I can catch up on all the articles I’ve collected over the years. By-in-large, though, these hours have become a time to spend with my family and be more present and focused on them.

This has already been a very successful experiment for me. I have other stretches tentatively planned for the rest of the year. I’m sure there won’t be epiphanies at every turn, but I am pretty well sold on the concept. A week off the grid has made me a more thoughtful and efficient programmer. Even better, it helps me step out of the fog and focus on the type of person I want to be. The discovery is that the experiment does end up being about improving relationships. My family, my friends, and I will all benefit from this time off the grid.