I’m bored. And yet, I’m also filled with inspiration.
It’s the fifth morning of my 10-day unplugged journey. I’m sitting outside, resting in the cool breeze of spring.
It’s in the low eighties, comfortable for where I lay in one of my favorite places in the world. The birds are chirping loudly and I’ve already downed two cups of coffee. I started my morning reading my third book of this #Unplugged trip. My second book lays discarded, for now, to my side nearby, resting on top of the first novel which I had already devoured, reading it all in one sitting. I had exchanged the second for something fictional, a different kind of distraction.
As I sit reading, my mind wanders as it often does when I’m unplugged. Random memories of my childhood and other nostalgic thoughts come to me when I allow them to. Other times I’m distracted, thinking about the work I have temporarily set aside, vying for my attention (even when it’s supposed to be left alone).
It’s hard not to think about one of my biggest projects of 2021 — a 12 week series of virtual events tailored for the pet health community — or the over 4,000 participants that have already registered. This event targets veterinary professionals from all across the globe, from South America to Ukraine, South East Asia, and everywhere in between, and our message, focusing on demonstrating how to build a digital footprint that engages pet owners in lifelong care, and all of its supplemental materials will be translated into 5 different languages. There is a lot of weight on my shoulders to make sure this project is extremely successful and to deliver for our industry partner. Only a few short hours after I plug back in, I’ll be back to focusing my attention on this by kicking off our first event, other projects, and resuming that life after this brief intermission.
This maybe isn’t the best time to have chosen to unplug, but there really is never a good time.
My next read is interesting. The characters are a bit odd, but I’m engaged. Naturally, as my mind drifts off, I can’t help but think about the whole process of being unplugged, and my passion to advocate for such practices. Every year I write an article or blog post, trying to convince skeptics to try it and remind converts why it is so important. This year, I thought, why not write about being unplugged while I’m unplugged? Why not share the perspective while it’s fresh on my mind?
I take out my journal, and start to write.
So here they are, my #Unplugged thoughts, compiled in a day, halfway through my 2021 Unplugged journey. As I look back on 2020, I know I almost lost sight of why I do this in the first place, unplugging about ¼ of the time I normally do. As 2020 came to an end, I told myself I would return to regularly unplugging, and started the new year off right, allowing myself to live in the moment. Then, in February, I unplugged again for 4 days. As I wrote this journal entry, back in March of 2021, it was during another series of 10 phoneless, digitally unplugged days. After the spring, I will unplug again in the summer as well, as I often do.
But even then, as I wrote, considering my time away from my phone, the usual fears came slinking back: “Is it too much? Will people be annoyed? Will clients be angry? Will people roll their eyes?”
These are questions I’ve heard other #Unplugged hopefuls ask before, and normally I’ve been able to reassure them (and myself) that they aren’t practical, though at the time, they feel like rational concerns. The more you create a habit, and the more you follow through, you’ll hear the whispers of these concerns less and less as you realize that clients and work partners are generally accommodating to your needs. But since I lost my routine last year, resuming it has helped these fears come creeping back.
I had already set the safeguards up, the practical tasks that should have been reassuring enough: I had already let everyone I was in correspondence with for work know, weeks in advance when I would be unplugging. I set my email signature to demonstrate this as I have before, letting them know what was coming, but even still, I worried.
I was afraid of opening the emails of certain important contacts, half expecting a “What!? You’re going to unplug in the middle of our project?!” Or even a, “Again!? Really?”
Of course, the response was the exact opposite.
There was the regular, “I know you’re going to be unplugged so can we touch base before you go?” Of course, I always expect this and set up my calendar to accommodate these welcomed requests. I always like reading, “Enjoy your time unplugged!” But admittedly, my favorite response is, “I can’t wait to try this!”
With those responses helping to assuage my fears yet again, the work days flew by, and before I knew it, it was time.
The first day of being unplugged is always a little strange for me. Only hours before I was going from checking multiple social media accounts, messaging on platforms like Whatsapp, and toggling between my phone and desktop to check my email, task management software like Asana, Salesforce, Slack, and all of the other apps that run my life (and keep it from getting any more chaotic). Going from this, to totally removing myself from my phone aside from the occasional glance to make sure no family or work emergencies need my attention is always going to give you a little bit of whiplash or withdrawal.
Even without the added stress of a work or family emergency, the process of starting to unplug always feels odd. My home screen is left bare after I intentionally delete all of the apps my thumbs instinctively go to open, keeping myself in check before I can look at “one more thing.” It’s crazy how easily we train our brains to follow certain behaviors… but luckily, after so many years of unplugging, this phase of “untraining” isn’t quite as hard. It’s a relief to have set aside the constant noise and notifications of the digital space in exchange for this more quiet and frankly boring world.
In fact, the more I’ve unplugged, the more I’ve come to appreciate boredom.
In my experience, boredom is a pretty natural state after the hyper-entertaining, constantly stimulated world most of us live in from the day-to-day.
By day two or three, I’m pretty bored. It’s not uncommon to find me staring off at nature, or else smiling, lost in thought, now that my mind is no longer suppressed by the distraction that technology brings. Through boredom, I’m brought back to the awkward years of self-discovery in high school, and the projects and ideas I left behind, unintentionally abandoning them in place of newer and shinier tech solutions.
It’s tempting to distract ourselves instead of allowing our minds, for even a second, to become bored. Let’s face it. Scrolling through social media and email is sometimes our go-to to avoid boredom. But in the end, how many times have we seen something online that leaves us feeling drained instead of inspired? A Time Magazine article discusses this phenomenon, explaining that oftentimes, when we reach for our phones we are cheating ourselves out of the benefits of boredom, leading to less productive and ultimately less satisfying distractions that put a strain on our mental health.