Tony Schwartz, the CEO of the Energy Project, decided to disconnect from the Internet for ten days.
This wasn’t the casual ‘I’m turning off Facebook for the next ten days, but I’m still checking Twitter and Tumblr and Pinterest and text messages and email every twenty minutes.’ No. Schwartz felt overworked and began planning a much needed vacation.
He decided to leave his laptop, iPad, and cell phone at home.
What did Schwartz think of his ten days away from Internet civilization?
“From the moment I boarded the plane for our trip,” Schwartz observes, “I noticed a shift. Ordinarily, I would have skittered between reading the newspaper, magazines, answering email, and surfing the web (if it was available). I’d brought along a pile of books, mostly novels, and none of them related to work. I began reading the first one, and I very quickly became absorbed. For once, nothing else was competing for my attention.”
But isn’t there such a thing as Internet withdrawal?
Schwartz admits, “The first time I felt a distracting impulse, it was to Google something I’d read. The initial pull was compelling, but I let it pass…By mid-week, that impulse evaporated, and I realized how much richer and more satisfying any experience is when it’s not interrupted—even if the interrupter is me.”
And the benefits?
Schwartz points out, “What grew each day was my capacity for absorbed focus.” On the tennis court, “I was able to slow down and analyze my strokes with a wholly different level of patience and unhurried interest. It was the sort of learning you simply can’t do when you’re thinking about 10 other subjects.”
Was the experiment a success?
Schwartz believes it was. “By the end of nine days, I felt empowered and enriched. With my brain quieter, I was able to take back control of my attention.” He notes that even without his cellphone he could have been reached in case of an emergency at work, but “the humbling truth is that not a single thing demanded my attention. Most everything can wait.”
“I did finally feel ready to return to my everyday world—even enthusiastic to read my email and check my favorite websites. But I also felt less anxious urgency about dealing with what ordinarily feels so pressing.”
Do you regularly and fully disconnect? Do you set aside time each day to unplug from technology?
Don’t wait until you crash and burn. Even if you are feeling extremely productive, know when it is time to stop and recharge. Creative energy is quickly depleted. It isn’t only writers who find themselves suffering from creativity blocks.
For many of us, shutting off the Internet for ten days is impractical. But certainly we can all set aside at least an hour each day to regularly and fully disconnect, to take time to breathe, and to renew our creative energy. And maybe even set aside longer periods on the weekend.
7 Ways to Regularly and Fully Disconnect
1. Go For A Long Walk Outside
This is one of the best ways to increase your creativity.
Don’t talk on your cellphone while you’re walking. Don’t listen to music. Just walk and observe. Drink in your surroundings. Feel the sun on your face. It doesn’t matter where you live: a city or a suburb. I enjoy walking in my neighborhood in the afternoon, but when I went to school in New York City, I also enjoyed walking up Fifth Avenue in the early morning hours just before the stores opened.
Any kind of exercise energizes your body and stimulates your brain. The Japanse novelist Haruki Murakami trained for marathons in order to renew his creative energy. “Writing a large novel is like survival training,” he observed. “Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensibility.”
2. Draw or Paint
Drawing or painting forces you to slow down and really look at the details of the world.
In her book Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor mentions the importance of honing one’s observation skills:
I have a friend who is taking acting lessons from a Russian lady who is supposed to be very good at teaching actors. My friend wrote me that the first month they didn’t speak a line, they only learned to see. Now learning to see is the basis of all the arts except music. I know a good many fiction writers who paint, not because they’re any good at painting, but because it helps their writing. It forces them to look at things.
If you don’t believe you are a particularly skilled artist, you might enjoy working through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. But, ultimately, the point of your sketching is not to produce a masterpiece. It’s just a way for you to disconnect, jumpstart your creativity, and observe the world around you.
3. Write By Hand
Find a quiet spot, open your journal, and begin writing by hand. If you haven’t started a journal yet, read this post : 4 Reasons to Keep an Idea Journal.
If you are writing by hand, you will not be tempted to open an Internet browser. You can let your ideas flow. You won’t be able to constantly hit the backspace key.
Write about the things around you as if you were sketching them with your words. Or write about the projects you are working on. Or write a poem. Or a fragment of a short story.
It really doesn’t matter what you write. Just enjoy the process of devoting all of your attention to writing.
I’ve often noticed that if I’m overstressed or feeling overwhelmed by all of the projects I need to complete, my room quickly becomes a mess too. And, of course, that adds one more item (cleaning my room) to my already swollen list of priorities.
But turning off the computer and phone and taking the time to organize and de-clutter a room or a desk or a closet can actually be a surprisingly relaxing experience. The act of organizing helps you think more clearly.
5. Read A Book
I like to turn off my computer a half an hour or an hour before I go to sleep and read a chapter of a novel. Like Schwartz, I am often tempted to Google something I might come across while reading, but instead I’ll either make a note of it in the book or mark it on a piece of paper to look it up in the morning.
Schwartz observes in his article: “For months now, I’ve wanted to read Far From the Tree, Andrew Solomon’s book about the challenges of parenting children with disabilities such as dwarfism, Down’s syndrome, and deafness. The problem is that it’s nearly 1,000 pages long, and who has the time or the wherewithal for that? But with my mind freed of distractions, I found it easy to dive in, and read most of the book over a couple of days. The book was fascinating.”
Blaise Pascal once wrote, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Tweet this!
Overstatement? Yes, but when was the last time you sat quietly, alone, just thinking?
If you do this often, I applaud you. If not, you might find it difficult at first. The digital age is shortening our attention spans. We live in a world of multitasking and instant gratification. Need the answer to a question? Google it. Impatiently waiting in line? Whip out your smart phone and start playing a game or check the news.
Creativity requires “absorbed focus.” But we are training ourselves to give up on tasks as soon as we lose interest and become distracted.
Instead, we need to train ourselves to think deeply. We need to savor the peacefulness of silence.
Unplugging from technology also allows us to spend more time with our friends and family.
Studies show that giving makes people happy. Usually, we think of giving in terms of material gifts, but we can give of our time as well. Tell a friend or family member that you would like to talk (not over the phone, but in person) and hear what is going on in his or her life. Don’t use this as a time for you to monologue about yourself or just to gossip or make small talk. Instead, focus your attention on the other person. Listen to his thoughts and ideas. Share yours. Talk about deep and important topics. Find a way to encourage and inspire each other.
Do you feel the need to recharge your creativity and boost your attention span? When was the last time you disconnected? Why not turn off your computer or cell phone right now and enjoy some time away from technology?