Sabbatical. From the Latin “Sabbaticus” meaning to cease something. These days, that means ceasing work to take a career break, so you can either travel the world, write a book, study, or even try out a new job. It typically lasts for a year and is a growing trend in Western countries, especially the UK.
But what about a digital sabbatical? Where, instead of a career break, you take an Internet break? What would be the benefits of that? What could you accomplish in the time saved not mindlessly surfing Facebook or LOL’ing on Skype?
Let’s take a look at how taking an extended break away from the Internet can improve — and perhaps extend — your life.
Go Into Digital Rehab & De-Stress From The Internet
Despite all of its advantages, the Internet also has many disadvantages. Chief among them are non-stop email, where the boss expects you to be available 24/7, and the constant ping of your apps updating. Turning on notifications for changes to your Twitter feed is enough to drive you to serious drinking within an hour.
So as a result, you may find yourself feeling sick, or having a feeling of dread at the pit of your stomach, if your job involves heavy use of email and social media. If it gets to this point, then you need to walk away from it and go into digital rehab. If your boss won’t give you an actual offline sabbatical, then consider alternatives. It isn’t worth wrecking your health over.
But if you can negotiate time off from your job, switch off everything — email, Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds, the whole damn lot. Then sit in your living room in a meditating position, take a deep breath, and enjoy the peace and quiet of no pinging notifications!
Stop Updating Your Read-It Later Lists
I don’t know about you, but my Pocket unread list stands at 358. Yesterday, it stood at a little over 900, and as you can see, I did some serious culling to the list. It’s not that I didn’t want to read the articles I deleted — I did. I simply don’t have the time, what with my job and other commitments, such as breathing, and getting pushed around by the dog.
Plus it doesn’t help that, due to the nature of the Internet, hundreds of thousands of new articles and posts come out every day. So it is very easy to become overwhelmed by new information, when you haven’t remotely started working on the current pile you have. I have no doubt that if I had left that 900 as it was, by next week it would easily have been over 1,000.
This puts stress on you, because you are trying to keep up, and you don’t see the unread number going down. Plus you are adding more to the list as you go along.
So stop doing this to yourself. Make a commitment not to add anything else to your Pocket account, or Instapaper account. Wipe the whole account of all articles, then stop logging into the account for your sabbatical period.
Which then leads me on to….
Catch up With Reading Real Books, NOT RSS Feeds!
These days, an average person’s idea of a good read is either the sports section of an online newspaper, or an RSS feed. Now stuff on the Internet can definitely be informative and enlightening, but may I introduce you to a stunning invention? It is called a BOOK. It is like Twitter messages but much longer than 140 characters. It’s made of paper, and you turn the pages with your hand.
There are great works of literature out there, written by the greatest scholars of the ages. You could take advantage of your sabbatical to explore this wondrous invention called “the book”. But the wonders don’t stop there! There is also a building commonly referred to as a library, which holds many of these books — which you can borrow! Yes, it’s like your Twitter archive. Well done.
Lose Weight & Start an Exercise Program
If you spend the better part of your day in front of a computer screen, then it’s probably fair to say that you are developing a bit of a belly. It’s so easy to make regular raids on the fridge, and take irregular exercise breaks. But studies have shown that if you don’t get up and move around on a regular basis, then you may be shortening your life. Or making yourself a prime candidate for type 2 diabetes.
So during your digital sabbatical, why not pledge to lose those kilos once and for all?
Start off with walking (no, lifting the TV remote control is NOT exercising). Then upgrade to running, cycling, and swimming. If you’re feeling really brave, start a gym membership and start pumping iron. Before you know it, you’ll be ripped like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and demanding to someone that they give you their “clothes, boots, and motorcycle”.
Design a Better Sleep Schedule
I myself am guilty of this — getting into bed with the laptop or iPad, turning the lights off, and either surfing the net, or watching a movie in the dark. But this messes up your circadian rhythm, which is another name for your body clock. By staring at the bright screen, your eyes think it is still the daytime, and keeps you awake accordingly. Then the next day, your body clock is a mess, and you feel like crap.
Health-wise, this can interfere with the efficiency of prescription medication. Studies have also shown that disruption of the circadian rhythm can lead to obesity, diabetes, and bi-polar disorder. Obviously if you only occasionally lie in bed with the lights off surfing Reddit, then you’ll be fine. But every night? Then you’re setting yourself up for a fall.
So during your digital sabbatical, vow to never to use a laptop or tablet device (or your smartphone for that matter) in bed. Devices should be switched off a minimum of one hour before bed, and they should stay in the bedside table drawer (or preferably in another room entirely). Over time, you will notice a vast improvement in your sleep.
Engage With the Real World
Now, you’re probably still reeling from the shock of discovering the invention of the book, but now here’s a double-whammy for you. Ready for this? There is something called “the offline world”, where real people congregate, where animals go hippity-hoppity in the grass, where there is something up-above called “fresh air”. See that round orange thing? That’s the sun — good for you that is.
What’s that you say? You thought the offline world was purely online legend? Well, sorry no, hate to break it to you buddy, but in the offline world, people talk to one another face-to-face!
So switch off that computer, get out there into the offline world, and see what you’ve been missing. Eat in a restaurant without having to order the food from a website to take away. Talk to someone without sending a friend request on Facebook. When the conversation gets going, make sure it’s more than 140 characters.
Time For Innovation & Creativity
With the sabbatical well under way, it’s time to tackle all of those other projects which have been sitting on the back-burner. With a never-ending stream of online articles and posts suddenly not in your life, you may very well find that your mind has become completely crystal-clear and devoid of meaningless dross (a.k.a. Buzzfeed).
This could mean saying goodbye to writers block for example, which could kick-start your debut novel. You could dust off that canvas and easel and paint a magnificent portrait worthy of any art gallery in the world. Or make something with your hands — get some wood, nails, and other DIY tools, and build a tree-house for the kids. You get the idea. Meaningful real world achievements that will be around long after you’ve gone.
Or how about starting an offline business? There are lots of possibilities which could be brought online later, after your sabbatical is over. Decide what your non-computer and non-Internet interests are, and see if you can make money from it. Except selling your grandmother. That’s a no-no.
A Sabbatical Sounds Terrifying! Is There Something Easier?
Why yes, there is actually. If the idea of a proper full sabbatical scares the living daylights out of you, how about having a mini-sabbatical instead? It’s like giving up real Coca-Cola and drinking the diet stuff instead.
As previously mentioned, many bosses expect you to be available 24/7 to reply to emails, finish reports, redesign the website, kiss their ass….as a result, you end up working what? 14 hours a day? 15? 16 even? If so, I’m sure you were like me when I once pretended that my Internet connection was down, so I couldn’t work that day (note to MakeUseOf editor – this was not when I was working here!).
So other than blame your Internet Service Provider for crappy service, the next best thing is to take a mini digital sabbatical and make a clear-cut end time for your work. Say to yourself “after 6.00pm, I will NOT respond to email, and I will NOT finish that presentation for the meeting tomorrow. If the boss wants me to, then boo-hoo to him/her”. Say it over and over, and be amazed at how the stress suddenly lifts from your shoulders.
Instead, make the evenings your own. Talk to those two little people called “your kids”. Make love to your spouse (or at the very least acknowledge their presence). Fix that leaky pipe in the kitchen. Or watch the ball game on TV. Or you could just do what I do, and fall asleep. Sleep is good. Especially when you start dreaming about a date with Scarlett Johannsen.
You can also designate a day of the week where you go offline completely and use that day as a “creativity day”. Put on your smoking jacket, grab a moleskin book, your favorite pen and a glass of fine malt whisky. Then jot down in the book all of your ideas, day dreams, pet projects, pros and cons of running for President….yes, let your mind soar like an eagle. Let it go places no man has gone before.
So now it is over to you. Have you ever taken, or would you ever consider taking, a digital sabbatical or a mini digital sabbatical? If so, the comments below is the place to be.