Switch Off – And Recharge | The BridgeMaker

Switch Off – And Recharge

By on Aug 13, 2009


The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it. – Sydney J. Harris

It’s no secret that we live in a hyper-connected world. From always-on broadband connections to mobile phones, we’re all more easily available to friends, colleagues, clients and online acquaintances than ever. This can be a blessing, of course: I’d not be able to work from home as a freelancer without an internet connection in my flat! But it can also be a curse.

The “always on” state of technology often means that we feel as though we’re “always on” too. It can be hard to fully unwind and relax, or even to take a break. This manifests in all sorts of ways:

  • Checking emails during meals, or just before bed
  • Working in the evenings – having no cut-off point for your work day
  • Letting your boss or clients contact you at any time of the day
  • Spending leisure time on Twitter, Facebook or blogs – instead of doing something to really recharge

I’m becoming more and more aware of the rather overly-significant role that computers, in particular, play in my own life. I often default to a computer-based activity when I’m bored, idling or deciding what to do for fun: I’ll either end up working, playing computer games or just surfing the net without any real sense of enjoyment. Sometimes it’s a good way to let my attention free-wheel, in between work sessions – but it’s often a poor way to recharge.

Unplugging and Switching Off

A couple of weeks ago, when my boyfriend suggested that we have a computer-free weekend, I decided it would be a good challenge! Especially as one of my favourite bloggers, Charlie Gilkey, had recently written about having a weekend unplugged:

When was the last time you had a weekend without computers, cell phones, TVs, and all the other devices that alter the way we experience time?

And it was indeed a good experience – though, in some ways, an odd one. I felt like time was dragging on Saturday: we bought a newspaper (rare for us, since we normally get all our news online) and sat side by side on the sofa to read, but I found it hard to simply sit still and relax. I felt as though I had a lot of “spare” attention that, when I’m on the computer, would normally be eaten up in flicking between different applications and windows. It was hard to resist the desire to somehow multi-task.

I hadn’t really expected to have a shift in the way I experienced time, but I found that I could completely understand what Charlie was getting at when he wrote:

As I figured out what I was going to do, I would frequently look at the clock on the DVR since it was right in my line of sight. 7:30. 7:36. 7:44. 7:52. 8:00. Every six to eight minutes, I noticed what time it was.

Time always seems to go by fast when I’m on the computer: an hour can whiz past. But while unplugged, an hour seemed like a huge gap of time, a great empty space to fill.

Real Relaxation and Recharging

As the afternoon went on, though, I became more at ease with the slightly uncomfortable sense that time was dragging and that I wasn’t getting anything “productive” done. We spent a lot more time doing things together as a couple than on an average Saturday – just simple things like baking muffins together, enjoying a walk, taking time over lunch, and re-potting some tomato plants.

The upshot was that we both felt rested, recharged and renewed. We were also challenged to find things that we wanted to do which didn’t involve simply watching a DVD or chatting whilst playing a computer game… I think we both became quite aware of just how much of our time is normally spent connected to a computer.

Some Challenges

These are a couple of challenges I want to tackle over the next month or so – are you up for joining in on any of them?

“Switched Off” Weekends

We were initially going to shoot for a whole weekend without turning on the computers, but a very loud and long party down the road on Saturday night saw us both get very little sleep, and succumb to the glowing screens on Sunday morning (we were out for the afternoon with friends).

Something I’d like to do on a regular, perhaps monthly, basis is to plan for a whole weekend without switching on the computers (our television comes through the desktop, so this would rule out TV too). I loved the real sense of recharging that I had, and the chance to spend higher-quality time with my boyfriend.

Shutting Down in the Evenings

I’m really not good at this one at the moment – I’m often still working after dinner, and tend to be checking emails in the hour or so before going to bed each night.

I have a whole bunch of excuses, some of which aren’t unreasonable (I’ll often spend all or part of a weekday on non-work activities, for instance, so working in the evenings makes up for this) – but I know I’d be more effective and efficient if I shut down the computer at a set time each evening, at least an hour before bed.

One Morning Email Check, One Afternoon Email Check

This is something I’ve had mixed results with – some days I get to lunch-time without reading emails, but then end up checking and replying several times during the afternoon. For me, though, emails are the biggest factor in draining my focus and making me feel hyper-connected, in a hyper-active sort of way.

I find that I’m far better at focusing, though, when I look at my emails just once or twice a day and process them all in a batch. I get through the emails quicker, and they’re not a drag on my mental RAM – if I see an email in my inbox that I need to reply to, I find it weighs on my mind.

I’d be really interested to hear about other people’s experiences. Do you find it difficult to switch off? Do you end up working in the evenings and weekends, or spending most of your leisure time engaged in some form of electronic entertainment? If you have any good tips on switching off and getting a proper recharge please share them in Comments below, I’d be grateful.

Ali Luke is a writer and writing coach. She blogs about writing and life at Aliventures. You can find out more about Ali here.

  • Hey Bonnie,

    I only managed an unplugged Saturday this weekend, since I’ve got some things I want to get done before tomorrow.

    If you can even manage a whole evening with the blackberry off, or a whole morning/afternoon at the weekend, I think it can make a big difference!

    For me, it’s slightly counter-productive to be “unplugged” but thinking constantly about emails that might or might not have come in, etc — so perhaps one solution is to have a time limit (eg. an hour) to spend online each day at the weekend.

    Keep pushing the boundaries of that comfort zone!

  • Ali,
    I know that everything you write here is valid, but I agree with Alex that I also recognize that it is way out of my comfort zone. Even when I am not in front of my computer, my blackberry lights up or vibrates with new messages that call for my response. I even have difficulty feeling disconnected on long flights when you need to turn off your phone.
    I would like to take on this challenge…maybe one day or evening at a time because I know it will be enlightening.

  • Thanks for the comments, all!

    Steve – my desk finally got cleared (after being on the “to-do” list for a while) when Windows was having a hissy fit the other day…

    Evelyn – sounds like you have it sorted! I’m trying reading (very familiar!) and meditation (something I’ve always been a bit “not for me” on) in the evenings at the moment.

    Hannes and Alex – good luck!