For the past four days, as far as my social network, email and IM contacts were concerned, I disappeared completely. No, I didn’t unplug all my devices or sit in the dark with my power cut off, or even have to exert any willpower. I simply took a trip, up beyond the range of my cell phone carrier’s data network, to northern Ontario’s cottage country. The cottage my family visits there is not only beyond cell phone range, it also has no cable, no satellite and no local dial-up service available.
It’s an anachronism, but a welcome one for a web worker looking for a true vacation. Not that I didn’t work. Because I love (some) work, so it doesn’t feel like an imposition when I bring it with me on vacation from time to time. And what better setting for getting some web work done than at a remote location surrounded by nature and devoid of any Internet access?
Honestly, I did some of my best work while completely disconnected from the world I work in. It’s true that for a lot of what I do, maintaining currency is key. I’d say about 80 percent of my work is focused on current events, and as such, I could only focus on the remaining 20 percent while disconnected. But concentrating on that generally neglected sub-category meant that I was that much more efficient and attentive when dealing with it.
Tools and Methods
Oddly, my tools of choice for getting things done in such a rustic setting were ones normally associated with the web. First, there was my recently acquired 12-inch PowerBook (s aapl), perfectly suited for the task because it wouldn’t suffer much from exposure to the elements, and because its screen is so much more appropriate for outdoor work than the glare-factory that is my 13-inch MacBook Pro’s optical glass screen.
Since writing was what I wanted to get done on this trip, I also employed Google Docs (s goog). But wait, Google Docs without an Internet connection? Yes, courtesy of Gears and a Fluid site-specific browser (SSB) instance, I can use Docs wherever and whenever I want as a fully functional standalone application. Web apps without the web are a beautiful thing.
As for methods, I just planned on waking up earlier than I normally would during a vacation and using the time during which the rest of the family was fast asleep to knock out some work, free of distractions. I ended up doing that. Owing to almost continuous rain, I also used big chunks of the afternoon on work, too. The setting and the absence of a sense of urgency made it seem like I wasn’t working at all, though.
Being unplugged, for me, was the closest I’ve come to achieving true singletasking. The reason being, there’s far less to distract you from the task at hand once you don’t have Twitter trying to steal focus every two minutes (or however often your client happens to refresh), or the omnipresent temptation of Facebook, YouTube and countless other sites, lurking just a new tab away.
At first, I was understandably edgy, since it was such an abrupt switch from being completely, utterly connected 24 hours a day to not even being able to check my email without driving 20 minutes to the nearest town. But once I got over the initial shock, the benefits were immediately apparent. I finished a 1,200-word article in only two hours, total, a process which would’ve taken me well over four under normal circumstances.
Perhaps the only way to cure our great Internet addiction is to go completely off-grid. But not everyone has the opportunity to escape civilization and, by extension, the long tendrils of the Internet. However, everyone can learn a lesson or two about how to simplify their work habits from my experience, both about how to work and what to work with.
For example, one of the key lessons I took away from my experience is to use the right tool for the job. If I can do something without undue inconvenience on a simple PowerBook and Fluid instance setup, then there’s absolutely no reason for me to break out three screens, a surround sound speaker set up, a Wacom tablet, etc. Work with what you have, obviously, but if you don’t need it, don’t use it.
Last but not least, I learned that the Internet, surprisingly, is not the key ingredient in successful web work. Working remotely means just that, a freedom from the traditional ties between workplace and employee. I was looking for that freedom when I chose a career that allowed me to work from home, but eventually I became so dependent on connectivity that I may as well have been going to an office every day. From now on, an occasional forced exile from the web is going to be a vital part of how I do my job.
Do you ever disconnect completely? If so, do you notice productivity gains from doing so?