7 Lessons From a Week Without Tech
It’s a hard decision to make for a self-employed person: to take or not take your laptop on holiday. Just in case. That last bit of work to be done. If something goes wrong. Or because you need to be seen to be there all of the time.
There is something incredibly wrong with the way that we work if we can’t take a week off fully from our businesses. Most of us went into business to spend more time with the family (or most of the people who I know did) and yet that one treasured time of the year — the holiday — is so seemingly impossible to give our whole focus.
This year specifically, we need to give ourselves a break. Over the past 18 months, I’ve homeschooled two children for large chunks of the year, I’ve worked crazy hours to keep things ticking over and I’ve hit burnout for the second time in my life.
In the last lockdown, I was operating on zero. I had nothing left to give and my mind and body were simply on auto-drive. When Easter came around and I desperately needed a 4-day break, I had to work right through. Sometimes until 11 pm.
It wasn’t healthy and I cried in front of several clients.
So yes, I needed a holiday.
I cannot think of the last time I took a break with my family and didn’t “have a quick check of my emails” on my phone. Something on there would send me into a spin that needed my urgent attention while away.
This time I did things differently and left my laptop at home.
Yes, a couple of things went wrong but nothing exploded. Posts went out, work was completed. And if anything was really that urgent, there was someone else they could use in my place.
So here is what I learned from switching off my tech for a week:
1. You need to turn off everything
It’s all well and good to not take my laptop away but my phone gives me the opportunity to work from anywhere. But that doesn’t mean I need to and indeed should work from everywhere.
I turned off my phone notifications so nothing appeared on my phone. Then I put it in my bag and didn’t look at it unless I needed to. I had my watch for the time and if I wanted to know the weather, well I could look at the sky.
I took books to read and declined all opportunities to charge up the battery of my phone. The battery lasted three whole days when I wasn’t compulsively checking it for emails and messages.
2. You’ll have less anxiety
I thought I’d be worrying about work the whole week. In fact, the opposite was true. I’d got a trusted content writer to cover if anything went wrong and told her to phone my husband if needed. Not in an emergency, but if anything came through that she couldn’t handle.
By the time we’d arrived at our campsite, a whole truckload of stress and anxiety had lifted from me. As the week went on, I felt myself return to old me. A more carefree me. It’s scary really, how much I’ll tie myself up in knots over being present at all times, answering the emails, Slacks, Messengers, WhatsApps, text messages. It’s exhausting thinking about it.
And then there are all the responses on social media and the deadlines. Are the stats going in the right direction?
All of that fell away like I was shaking off water. My shoulders came down a few centimetres, my spine unrolled. And I immersed myself in what was happening around me.
3. Talk less about work
If I have an evening out with my husband or a couple of nights away, I’ll talk about work. When I do my daily journal, I talk about how much work I have, how much I need to earn, how stressed I am about work. Work, work, work.
It has come to define me. Like people with their first child, it was all I could talk about. And all I could think about.
Turn off the tech and suddenly I have interests again. I read an amazing book while camping. I talked about the upcoming festival and music. My kids told me about what they were reading and doing.
Around day four, I realised that I’d not once spoken about something I was working on or planning. And more importantly, I realised how boring it must be for my family and friends to listen to me harp on about work all the time.
4. It makes you a nicer person (and mum)
Over the past week, I’ve got back down the eye level with my kids. Not one eye on my phone. None of this: “one second, I just need to send this quick email and then I’m all yours.” There has been no underlying urgency to get the kids into bed so I can finish my workday.
In fact, without having notifications on my phone, I’ve not felt compelled to have a quick check. And so, I’ve not had overriding anxiety that I should be doing something right now other than being present with my kids.
Which is funny because I ended up as a content writer because I want to be there for my kids. I want to pick them up after school and hang out with them. I want to be able to have the school holidays taking them places. And on the most part, that’s exactly what I’ve done over the past few years. Only with one eye on my phone while doing it.
This time I took my phone out to take a few photos. I didn’t post them online. They are for the family photo book or the end of year calendar. No one really cares that we’ve had a good holiday. Or at least no one who wouldn’t ask us anyway.
There’s been less snapping. With no places to be by a certain time, there is no need to rush about. And I’ve been a nicer person without having work hanging over my head, sucking up every thought. Who would have thought?
5. It’ll make you realise you miss things like your kids
Yeah, this was a hard one to take. My tech-free week has held a mirror up to how I’ve changed as a parent over the past few years. Once, I would take my kids out to the woods, pack up a lunch, we’d play and chat.
I’ve missed this. It’s not all tech and work-related. Other life problems have gotten in the way. That pesky homeschooling and lockdown have put a lot of pressure on everyone. We’ve already lost the screen battle because games like Fortnite and Minecraft have allowed our kids to feel connected to their friends over the past year or so.
But I’ve missed those simple days with them where we create a day together that we all enjoy. And I want more of this.
I’ve got the kids to myself in a couple of weeks. I’d been offered to send them for sleepovers on that weekend but said no. Not that I don’t dream of time to myself to do things that I want. I oh so desperately need that. I said no because I’ve missed my kids.
I want to do crafts with them, play in the garden, take them out for a road trip. Climb trees, spot butterflies, get muddy. And watch a late-night film under our living room den while eating pizza.
6. I don’t want to go back to how things were
One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that I don’t want to go back to how things were. This is not a new feeling. Earlier this year, I got a clock for the bedroom so that my phone was not the first thing I looked at each morning.
Some days I’d wake to 30 or 40 Slack messages pinging off. Emails and messages taking my attention right before the school run. I could barely breathe from the weight of it.
Now, I wake up and don’t check my phone or laptop until after the school run. What’s the point? It’s not like I can do anything while shoving cereal down the kids and telling them that teeth brushing and shoes aren’t optional.
After a week of no tech, I’d like more tech breaks. I want to work towards putting my phone away on an evening. A solid stop time for work. It means being more organised — or maybe setting firmer boundaries — but there has got to be a better way than this.
7. Things will go wrong
And that won’t be the end of the world. People don’t expect you to be sat at your keyboard 24/7 and if they do, are they really the kinds of clients you want to work with? Goodness knows I don’t.
I had a client who did expect me to be on call all the time. Even when I was on holiday with my family. They were furious I’d not responded to an email that they’d sent while I was sat at a festival with no phone signal. I’d forewarned them. They didn’t stay a client for long.
That’s the best thing about being your own boss, you get to choose who you work with. You don’t have to put up with people who never want you to take a break.
This year my out of office didn’t trigger. Since I was away, I was oblivious. But as I’d warned all my clients and told them what to do if they needed something, it wasn’t a problem.
One of my schedulers also disconnected. I’d got an associate who tried to fix it for me but couldn’t. Did it matter at all? Not in the slightest. Everything else went out and the copy can be reused for this week.
Take the break
We need holidays. We need to take breaks from our work so that we can hit the refresh button on our brains. Working solidly only leads to breakdown.
And I see the irony from when I was employed, I’d think nothing of taking 4 weeks’ holiday each year. Sticking on my out of office and swanning off without a thought. So why can’t we do that as self-employed? Everyone understands that a holiday is a precious time. Family or not, you need time to do things that are for you.
You’ll come back brighter and busier than ever. Our inspiration doesn’t come from working furiously, it comes when we have quiet moments. When we give ourselves space to think. More often than not, it comes when we turn off to all the world around us. When we unplug.
We can’t learn to live differently — or relearn to live as we once did before smartphones and wifi — unless we make a conscious decision to turn off once in a while.