My days are filled with emails, pings and notifications. So much so that I forgot what it was like to be away from all of the distractions of technology I've grown accustomed to. Here are some lessons I learnt spending a week away from it all, and how you can incorporate them in your own life.
I recently visited family in a semi-remote area of Montana. Remote enough that author Max Brooks deems it as one of the only safe zones for people in the zombie apocalypse novel, World War Z. But this wasn't a holiday. I did my normal work routine and clocked my normal hours, but they felt different. I felt less stressed, unrushed, and for the first time in a while I could honestly say I was "going with the flow". I realised it was because I wasn't being distracted by a device or screen every other second. I was only there for about a week, but I left wanting to take some of it with me. Here are the things I learned and how you can find your own peaceful cabin without leaving home.
I Have a Lot More Thoughts Than I Realised
For the entire week, I didn't watch movies, play video games (silly phone games included), or even listen to music outside of working hours. TV, movies, computers and video games normally eat up a huge chunk of my free time, so this left a massive gap for my mind to operate itself. I didn't go as far as intentionally meditating, but I often found myself lost in thought. I was meditating in my own way.
It's important to actually give yourself time to just think. Having that extra time to think can help you lower your stress levels, help you work through things that are eating at you. Things you may not have realised were bothering you.
Think about how much of your mental energy is spent consuming information. It's no wonder why your mind gets so burned out. You need to stop the incoming flow every once in a while to do some mental digesting and process what it all means. If you want to meditate, do it. If you just want to stare off into space like me, that works too. Whether you're facing personal problems or creative problems, you might have the answer to your problem waiting around in your head. If you don't go looking though, you'll never find it.
I Don't Really Need My Phone as Much as I Thought
Like most people, I like to keep my smartphone on me at all times. I like to be able to respond to text messages, IMs and emails. If something blows up, I'll be ready for it. I couldn't really do that where I was, however. My only connection to the outside world was the internet trickling from my grandma's cabin. If I wasn't in that cabin, I could literally not be reached. I made sure to check in occasionally, but I was staying in a separate cabin where I lived in total radio silence.
I was worried initially and my "phone separation anxiety" increased, but when nothing blew up after a couple days, it vanished completely. Most of the time, other people can step in when you're unavailable. Things may blow up occasionally, but you don't necessarily have to come to the rescue when other people can handle things just fine. Without a steady flow of notifications poking you in the leg, you'll found yourself less concerned with what other people are doing, less stressed about work, and far more interested in the things that are actually right in front of you.
Create your own set of rules to help curb your smartphone habits. Dedicate some time every day to being away from your phone. Put it in aeroplane mode, throw it in a drawer, password protect your high-usage apps, and give yourself a break from the world. It's especially important at night when you're trying to sleep. You might miss a thing or two, but everybody did before cell phones took over and they did just fine. It's uncomfortable at first, and may stress you out a little bit at the beginning, but it's important to learn to set your own boundaries..
It Felt Good to Define Work Boundaries
Because I could only be in touch with the outside world in one place, I could only work in one place, for a specific period of time. Work didn't follow me around all day and night, constantly invading my thoughts regardless of what I was preoccupied with. I was forced to only worry about work during my normal work hours. I was also around family, so there was an extra incentive: I wanted to spend time with them.
Work boundaries and limits should already be in place, but when you have a job that you care about, it can sometimes bring constant anxiety with it. You want to always to do the best you can, so thoughts of work find a way to creep into your mind day and night. Don't let work consume you completely. Set hard limits for yourself to keep your stress at bay and you might feel more refreshed and ready tomorrow.
Stop working when it's time to go home. Or, if you're home already, have a set time and stop when it hits. Set an alarm if you want, but make sure you stick to your schedule. Sometimes, you might need to put some extra work in and that's OK. Just don't run yourself into the ground every single day. Overworking yourself all the time could actually be hurting your overall progress, not helping. Work should be focused, efficient, and only a part of your life. Block out things you know will distract you and find your minimum effective dose of work you need each day. Go be with your family or friends and save some work for tomorrow.
I Remembered What Sleep Is Supposed to Feel Like
I try my best to get the rest I need, but like most of us, sleep is the first thing to go when something else comes up. I watch TV before I fall asleep, I check my phone while I lay in bed, and my room is not nearly as dark as it should be. At the cabin, none of that was an option and I slept like a rock. There are tons of articles suggesting all of that stuff, but I had forgotten how effective those tips can be until they were forced on me. I woke up refreshed and ready for the day every morning. I wanted to go to the bed at the same time every night and I didn't even want to sleep in when the weekend came.
You don't have to find a cabin in the woods to get decent sleep though. Have a good pair of shades that make your room as dark as you can. Consider taking the TV out of your room along with anything else that goes buzz in the night. If you don't want to remove them, at least leave them alone before bed. If noise is a problem for you, get a white noise machine or play ambient sounds. Earplugs might not be a bad alternative either.
Lastly, make your room a place that is only for resting. When you have nothing in your bedroom to occupy yourself with, sleep is all that will call to you. Just going in your room will make you calm and ready for sleep. You can read a book if you like, but make your bed and bedroom your sanctuary.
Time Became a Blessing, Not a Curse
Depending on how you look at it, time can be something you have plenty of or something you never seem to have enough of. I didn't have something in my face always telling me the time, I suddenly had time to work on my passion projects, and I didn't mind doing any chore-like work at all. Chores usually bother me because I have so many other things I'd rather do, but with fewer distractions around, I had all the time in the world to chop wood. It was even... fun. I found some zen in labour I would normally have to drag myself through. Instead of fretting over how little time I had to do a bunch of things, I had a lot of time to do a few things.
You probably feel busy in your life, and while that may or may not be the case, you likely have so many things you need and want to do that there couldn't possibly be enough time for it all. It's like you're at a buffet and you have a plate filled with food you want to eat, but you return to your table and realise you're already pretty full. You may not be able to seclude yourself like I did and force a clean plate, but you can still clear your own plate and grab a fresh one.
If you're bogged down doing things for other people, tell them no. If you're easily excitable about passion projects like I am, pick just one. You can always return to the other stuff later on. Try limiting yourself to only a few things you can do and your time will feel like it expands. You'll feel less burned out and more productive. The less you have on your plate, the more room you have to truly enjoy each bite.
I Became a Lot More Appreciative of the Little Things
Without distractions pulling me in different directions, I found myself more present in the moment. It felt like I had more capacity to notice and appreciative the little things in life. The things that were right in front me. When I look at it in contrast to my normal routine, I feel stupid thinking about the things I usually get upset over. I throw a fit when my internet goes out, but I should be thankful I can afford to have it at all. I get frustrated with my cats doing cat things, but I should be happy that they love me unconditionally. I get annoyed with the amount of chores it takes to keep a home looking nice, but at least I have one to clean.
Whether you can find a way to step away from technological distractions or not, you can at least try to be thankful you have things distracting you. It can be tough finding gratitude sometimes, especially when life has thrown you a lot of lemons, but there's probably something you can be thankful for. Gratitude for what you have will make you happier in the long run. It doesn't take being in a secluded cabin to experience that.