Unplug to Recharge - a guide for IT Professionals (Part 2)

Part 2 of a 3-part series, which is itself is a longer version of a talk I give at conferences and conventions.

You can find part 1 here.

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

In the first part of this series, I made a case for why disconnecting some times and for some significant amount of time is important to our health and career. In this segment I pick up on that idea with specific things you can do to make going offline a successful and positive experience.

Don’t Panic!

If you are considering taking time to unplug, you probably have some concerns, such as:

  • how often and for how long should you unplug
  • how do you  deal with a workload that is already threatening to overwhelm you
  • how will your boss, coworkers, friends perceive your decision to unplug
  • how do you maintain your reputation as a miracle worker if you aren’t connected
  • how do you deal with pseudo medical issues like FOMO
  • what about sev1 emergencies
  • what if you are on-call

Just take a deep breath. This isn't as hard as you think.

Planning Is Key

"To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure."

- Albus Dumbledore

As true as these words might be for Nicolas Flamel as he faces his mortality, they are even truer for those shuffling off the mortal coil of internet connectivity. Because, like almost everything else in IT, the decisions you make in the planning phase will determine the ultimate outcome. Creating a solid plan can make all the difference between experiencing boring, disconnected misery and relaxed rejuvenation.

The first thing to plan out is how long you want to unplug, and how often. My advice is that you should disconnect as often, and for as long per session, as you think is wise. Period. It's far more important to develop the habit of disconnecting and experience the benefits than it is to try to stick to some one-size-fits-most specification.

That said, be reasonable. Thirty minutes isn't disconnecting. That’s just what happens when you're outside decent cell service. You went offline for an hour? I call that having dinner with Aunt Frieda, the one who admonishes you with a “My sister didn't raise you to have that stupid thing out at the table." Haven't checked Facebook for two or three hours? Amateur. That's a really good movie, or a really, REALLY good date.

Personally, I think four hours is a good target. But that's just me. Once again, you have to know your life and your limits.

At the other end of the spectrum, unless you are making some kind of statement, dropping off the grid for more than a day or two could leave you so shell shocked that you'll avoid going offline again for so long you may as well have never done it.

One suggestion is to try a no-screens-Sunday-morning every couple of weeks, and see how it goes. Work out the bugs, and the re-evaluate to see if you could benefit from extending the duration.

It's also important to plan ahead to decide what counts as online for you. This is more nuanced that it might seem. Take this seemingly clear-cut example: You plan to avoid anything that connects to the outside world, including TV and radio. There are still choices. Does playing a CD count? If so, can you connect to your favorite music streaming service since it’s really just the collection of music you bought? What about podcasts?

The point here is that you don’t need to have the perfect plan. You just need to start out with some kind of plan and be open-minded and flexible enough to adjust as you go.

You also need to plan your return to the land of the connected. If turning back on again means five hours of hacking through email, twitter feeds, and Facebook messages, then all that hard won rest and recharging will have gone out the window. Instead, set some specific parameters for how you reconnect. Things like:

  • Limit yourself to no more than 30 minutes of sorting through email and deleting garbage
  • Another 30 to respond to critical social media issues
  • Decide which social media you actually HAVE to look at (Do you really need to catch up on Pinterest and Instagram NOW?)
  • If you have an especially vigorous feed, decide how far back (in hours) that you will scroll

As I said earlier, any good plan requires flexibility. These plans are more contingencies than tasks, and you need to adhere to a structure, but also go with the flow when things don't turn out exactly as expected.

Preparation is Key

Remember how I said that Shabbat didn't mean sitting in the dark eating cold sandwiches? Well, the secret is in the preparation. Shabbat runs from Friday night to Saturday night, but a common saying goes something like, "Shabbat begins on Wednesday.” This is because you need time to get the laundry done and food prepared so that you are READY when Friday night arrives.

An artist friend of mine goes offline for one day each week. I asked him what happens if he gets an idea in the middle of that 24-hour period. He said, "I make an effort all week to exhaust myself creatively, to squeeze out every idea that I can. That way I look at my day off as a real blessing. A day to recharge because I need it."

His advice made me re-think how I use my time and how I use work to set up my offline time. I ask myself whether the work I'm doing is the stuff that is going to tear my guts out when I'm offline if it's not done. I also use a variety of tools - from electronic note and to-do systems to physical paper - so that when it's time to drop offline, I have a level of comfort that I'm not forgetting anything, and that I'll be able to dive back in without struggling to find my place.

Good preparation includes communicating your intentions. I'm not saying you should broadcast it far and wide, but let key friends, relatives, and coworkers know that you will be “…out of data and cell range.”

This is exactly how you need to phrase it. You don’t need to explain that you are taking a day to unplug. That's how the trouble starts. Tell people that you will be out of range. Period.

If needed, repeat that phrase slowly and carefully until it sounds natural coming out of your mouth.

When you come back online, the opposite applies. Don't tell anyone that you are back online. Trust me, they'll figure it out for themselves.

In the next installment, I'll keep digging into the specifics of how to make going offline work for you. Meanwhile, if you have thoughts, suggestions, or questions, let me know in the comments below!

Anonymous
Parents
  • The medical industry has developed descriptions for pain associated with cell phones:  "Text Neck" and "Cellphone Elbow."  They're not hard to imagine, and they're exacerbated by watching small screen devices while in bed.

    Digital disabilities — text neck, cellphone elbow — are painful and growing - The Washington Post

    Neck Pain and Functioning in Daily Activities Associated with Smartphone Usage

    https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2015/03/text-neck-is-smartphone-use-causing-your-neck-pain/

    Text neck: how smartphones are damaging our spines | Life and style | The Guardian

    From that last link:

    pastedImage_4.png

    • how often and for how long should you unplug
      • Unplug as often as it takes to regain your health and comfort. 
      • Keep in mind that your job does NOT require you to experience spine or eye or mental damage, so unplug.  Or find an alternative method of staying in touch that does not cause you physical discomfort.
    • how do you  deal with a workload that is already threatening to overwhelm you
      • Don't give in to trite phrases that cover up workplace deficiencies (e.g.:  "Work smarter, not harder.") .  Instead, get the right amount of support staff.  If that's not happening, move to an employer or department that won't hurt your health with stress.
      • Talk with H.R. and your boss to let them know you're sinking.  They can help you find ways to deal with stress before you drown.
      • Find alternatives that keep you interesting in many things after hours.  There's no need to be 100% I.T. day and night--unless that's what pleases you.  You come first, and no amount of money or promotions will give you back the time you should have spent with your spouse or your children or your parents or your friends or your hobbies that help you recover your mental health.  After-hours, those things are your job.  Leave work at work.
      • Get the right tools in place; they'll help you be aware of what's wrong, and help you make preventative or proactive decisions and choices instead of reactive ones.  That makes your future brighter with fewer issues.
      • Break down silo walls and share information with other teams.  Once you understand what they're doing, and when they understand what you're doing, better planning and notification and coordination will result.
    • how will your boss, coworkers, friends perceive your decision to unplug
      • Don't unplug without coordinating with your boss and coworkers and friends first.  Be considerate--think how you'd feel if everyone but you left the field and you had to face the opposing team all on your own. 
      • Get a team to help you out.  If you don't HAVE a work team, get one so you can unplug.
    • how do you maintain your reputation as a miracle worker if you aren’t connected
      • Develop a reputation for being a human, for having limitations.  That will result in others expecting human results from you, not inhuman ones. 
      • In the long run, spending your spare time cozied up to your Technical Manual like Star Trek's Scotty isn't going to help your health.  Be like Riker and head to Risa once in a while. 

    pastedImage_22.png

    • how do you deal with pseudo medical issues like FOMO
      • Define what is important / necessary, then give it first priority.  Leave non-work issues for after work. 
      • Similarly, leave work issues for work hours--and get support from your manager and H.R. to do just that.

    pastedImage_27.png

    • what about sev1 emergencies
      • When the boat's sinking, you should not say "It's not my problem--I'm not on-call."  That's a career-limiting, resume-generating posture.  Do what needs doing to remediate emergencies, then develop a plan to reduce emergencies and prevent them.  There's a reason ITIL was developed, even if newer or older philosophies duplicate it.  Learn it.  Use it.

    pastedImage_30.png

    • what if you are on-call
      • Handle what needs handling when it needs to be handled.  But not at the long-term expense of your health and your life.
      • Arrange with your boss and H.R. for compensation time to let you have some personal time when work time has intruded on your personal life.  Everyone needs time to be with their family, pay bills, do laundry, cook meals, buy groceries, get the transportation issues resolved, etc. 
Comment
  • The medical industry has developed descriptions for pain associated with cell phones:  "Text Neck" and "Cellphone Elbow."  They're not hard to imagine, and they're exacerbated by watching small screen devices while in bed.

    Digital disabilities — text neck, cellphone elbow — are painful and growing - The Washington Post

    Neck Pain and Functioning in Daily Activities Associated with Smartphone Usage

    https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2015/03/text-neck-is-smartphone-use-causing-your-neck-pain/

    Text neck: how smartphones are damaging our spines | Life and style | The Guardian

    From that last link:

    pastedImage_4.png

    • how often and for how long should you unplug
      • Unplug as often as it takes to regain your health and comfort. 
      • Keep in mind that your job does NOT require you to experience spine or eye or mental damage, so unplug.  Or find an alternative method of staying in touch that does not cause you physical discomfort.
    • how do you  deal with a workload that is already threatening to overwhelm you
      • Don't give in to trite phrases that cover up workplace deficiencies (e.g.:  "Work smarter, not harder.") .  Instead, get the right amount of support staff.  If that's not happening, move to an employer or department that won't hurt your health with stress.
      • Talk with H.R. and your boss to let them know you're sinking.  They can help you find ways to deal with stress before you drown.
      • Find alternatives that keep you interesting in many things after hours.  There's no need to be 100% I.T. day and night--unless that's what pleases you.  You come first, and no amount of money or promotions will give you back the time you should have spent with your spouse or your children or your parents or your friends or your hobbies that help you recover your mental health.  After-hours, those things are your job.  Leave work at work.
      • Get the right tools in place; they'll help you be aware of what's wrong, and help you make preventative or proactive decisions and choices instead of reactive ones.  That makes your future brighter with fewer issues.
      • Break down silo walls and share information with other teams.  Once you understand what they're doing, and when they understand what you're doing, better planning and notification and coordination will result.
    • how will your boss, coworkers, friends perceive your decision to unplug
      • Don't unplug without coordinating with your boss and coworkers and friends first.  Be considerate--think how you'd feel if everyone but you left the field and you had to face the opposing team all on your own. 
      • Get a team to help you out.  If you don't HAVE a work team, get one so you can unplug.
    • how do you maintain your reputation as a miracle worker if you aren’t connected
      • Develop a reputation for being a human, for having limitations.  That will result in others expecting human results from you, not inhuman ones. 
      • In the long run, spending your spare time cozied up to your Technical Manual like Star Trek's Scotty isn't going to help your health.  Be like Riker and head to Risa once in a while. 

    pastedImage_22.png

    • how do you deal with pseudo medical issues like FOMO
      • Define what is important / necessary, then give it first priority.  Leave non-work issues for after work. 
      • Similarly, leave work issues for work hours--and get support from your manager and H.R. to do just that.

    pastedImage_27.png

    • what about sev1 emergencies
      • When the boat's sinking, you should not say "It's not my problem--I'm not on-call."  That's a career-limiting, resume-generating posture.  Do what needs doing to remediate emergencies, then develop a plan to reduce emergencies and prevent them.  There's a reason ITIL was developed, even if newer or older philosophies duplicate it.  Learn it.  Use it.

    pastedImage_30.png

    • what if you are on-call
      • Handle what needs handling when it needs to be handled.  But not at the long-term expense of your health and your life.
      • Arrange with your boss and H.R. for compensation time to let you have some personal time when work time has intruded on your personal life.  Everyone needs time to be with their family, pay bills, do laundry, cook meals, buy groceries, get the transportation issues resolved, etc. 
Children
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