Things I Learned from Trying to Take 3 Weeks off Technology

No email, phone or laptop has become almost impossible

Photo by Sound On from Pexels

I was lucky enough to go on a 3-week vacation this summer, and I took the decision to disconnect as much as possible during that time. A few reasons for that:

  • It had been an intense past few months at my job (like for a lot of people).
  • It had been a year almost to the day that I was blogging non-stop, posting 3 articles a week for 52 weeks (except for 2 or 3 weeks).
  • I had been looking forward to this vacation for a while and didn’t want to miss out because I was glued to a screen all day long.

I’m now back from my vacation, and I need to get back to work, both at my 9–5 job and at my blog. In this article I want to talk about the things I learned during my days off, and what I did to respect my vacation rule of trying to get away from work as much as possible.

The rules around the vacation

My set of rules consisted more of guidelines and things to keep in mind rather than an actual, set-in-stone rulebook. I always avoid work on vacation, but I’m not super strict about it, because vacation is about relaxing and letting go. So if I have to work a little bit, it’s fine, I don’t have to overthink it. What matters is to have a lot more time off than time spent working.

No email

That’s always the number one thing to avoid while on vacation. I checked my emails 6 times over the course of those 3 weeks, which is an average of 2 times per week. I’m really happy with this number. I checked mostly my blog emails and almost zero 9–5 job emails.

No laptop

I usually don’t even bring my laptop on vacation. But again, these past few months have been crazy at work, and I needed my laptop in case of emergency. I used it the most during the second week of my vacation because I had a few days where nothing was happening, so I took the opportunity to check on everything.

No phone

I barely ever use my phone, even when not on vacation. I do everything on my laptop, and I don’t make a lot of phone calls. My phone was either off or on airplane mode most of the time.

No rules

I didn’t want to stress myself out by being super strict about the rules. I simply changed my approach to work and things I usually do automatically, like a lot of people: emails, slack, spending hours on the laptop… I only did those things after giving them a second thought, not on the spur of the moment. If I knew it was probably time to check in, then I’d do it, and it didn’t mean it was the end of the vacation. But I wouldn’t do work based on sudden impulses.

Learnings

It takes a while to disconnect

The first week of my vacation was really busy with traveling and doing a lot of things, so I actually didn’t have to get used to the vacation mode. The second week was a lot calmer, and that’s when I realised I had to “re-learn” how to disconnect. I think it’s a completely normal thing though. We’re glued to our screen all the time at work, so it naturally takes a bit of transition time to dissolve that glue.

It takes a while to reconnect

After 3 weeks of drastic screen time reduction, going back to the laptop feels odd, but at the same time you still remember where everything is. The familiarity never left, but the habit of working did a little bit. Then there’s everything you need to catch up on. Emails, Slack, work left unfinished before leaving, meeting notes…

You feel like you miss out on ideas

I almost always have my paper journal with me to write down ideas, even on vacation. But because there was a lot going on, and I would sometimes go out without it, I definitely felt like I forgot some good ideas I was having.

When it comes to the blog, I sometimes had article ideas I’d write down in the evening when I was back home. But the more time there was between the moment I had the idea and the time I’d get home, the blurrier the idea became, and the less precise it was on paper.

The point of this vacation was to disconnect not only the technology but also the brain. I wanted to try to unwind, forget about work, and let my brain rest a little bit. So I learned to accept to not write everything down like I usually do.

Doing nothing can be great

On a normal workweek, the only time I unwind and do a little bit of nothing is on the weekend. By “nothing” I mean something that’s not work related, or something that has the sole purpose of distracting myself. Or sometimes, literally nothing.

Like sitting on the couch with tea, and thinking. Or going out for a long walk, let my thoughts flow, and look at nature. Or meditating. Essentially, doing something with minimal brain power required, and maximal relaxation provided. Biking would be another example. During those 3 weeks, I did those “nothing” activities a lot more, and it felt great.

It feels great to unwind for such a long time. The weekend is a 2-day break over a 7-day timeline. That’s 28% of the time available to relax. A 3-week vacation is a 15-day break over a 261-day timeline (that’s excluding the weekends that are already off). That’s 5.8% of the time.

This not only means that most of us only get a “long” break once a year (which is often too little). It also means that the long break is much, much shorter than the short-term reward of a weekend, when you look at it relatively. This is part of the reason it’s so hard to disconnect and do nothing while on vacation. We’re connected 94% of the time. When it comes time to do nothing, we’re lost. It’s almost like we forgot how to do nothing.

Running in pickles

During my time off, I was harshly reminded that checking emails and the dozens of communication channels we have in place is sometimes unavoidable. Not because of compulsive habits, but because things can go wrong when left on autopilot.

On the second week, I checked my phone and noticed that my manager had texted me on my personal Whatsapp, which was a red flag. It meant she needed me for something very urgent. I also noticed I had a missed call from her. I decided to not call back, but to take care of the issue via text message. I ended up spending less than an hour solving the problem on my laptop.

On the third week, during which I checked my emails the least (1 time), I noticed I had received a billing issue notice from my hosting provider, 5 days earlier. 2 days after that, they had sent another reminder (which I hadn’t seen either) and they had shut down my website until the payment could be made.

There shouldn’t have been a problem in the first place because the automatic payments were set up, but it just happened that my website ended being completely unaccessible for 3 days. I immediately reached out to my hosting provider and fixed the issue. This was a pretty stressful moment that would have been avoided if I had checked my emails everyday like I normally do.

Overall, my 3-week vacation was relaxing, and I’m grateful I was even able to have time off in those crazy times. But the truth is, I didn’t fully disconnect. I did a lot of activities I don’t do enough while I work, and I did very little of work which I do 94% of the year.

Technology has become such a huge part of our lives, doing without it is extremely challenging. These 3 weeks made me think of incorporating more relaxing time in my regular schedule, on the weekends mostly, to be able to disconnect more.

It’s all about the little things. Checking emails on the weekends might seem harmless, but that’s work right there. And it’s not just a compulsive habit, it’s a compulsive work habit. It means that our brains are constantly thinking of the next email, the next notification, always asking for more. This is a problem which I believe will gain more and more attention over the coming years.

Thanks so much for reading! I interviewed 50 productivity experts and made a 150+ page guide out of the project. This is road-tested advice from real people who get things done. Get it for free here.

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