Unplugging from the Matrix

Today’s my first day back at work after a week long holiday. A holiday is nothing unusual of course, but I wanted to write down a few thoughts on an aspect of my holiday which is a little more unusual. For the entire duration of that week, I was totally disconnected from the internet. I didn’t take my laptop with me. There was no wi-fi where I was staying. Data roaming on my phone was turned off.

This is a habit I acquired around two years ago now, and every year I make sure that I spend at least one (but preferably two weeks) completely cut off from the online world. Imagine that – no email, twitter, github, irc, skype or interwebs.

But guess what. The world kept on turning quite happily without me. Ops folk (and developers as well) are almost universally bad at unplugging in this way. Many of our professional lives revolve around the online world and the thought of forcibly disconnecting ourselves makes us all twitchy.

I must admit, my motivations for these annual offline weeks are purely selfish – I find it recharges my batteries and refreshes my mind. That’s been especially important this year as I’m entering the closing stages of writing a book, and had been skating on the edge of burnout-territory for a couple of months.

But there’s another side to this as well – I was catching up with one of my colleagues this morning, Pete Bellisano, who made the following observation:

I’d imagine it’s incredibly healthy thing to do, both from a personal and organizational view point

My feeling is that Pete was entirely correct on this point – although taking a week away from the constant barrage of information is good for me on a personal level, it’s also a healthy exercise for the company I work for and the people I work with.

The fact that I was able to take that week away without anybody having to call me on my mobile – the only means of communicating with me during that week – let us know that we’re doing a good job of making sure that I’m not a single point of failure for anything. It’s the classic “what if X gets hit by a bus” dilemma.

It’s my personal opinion that everybody should try taking an offline week at least once a year – without fail, I return to work feeling refreshed and ready to rock. I’m also writing the first post on this blog since October last year, which says something by itself!

Having said that, I realise that it’s not possible for everybody to do that – you might be the only person on your team, or your organization might not be all that “bus proof” at the moment. So my challenge to you is this:

  • Take 1 week off work per year and totally disconnect from the internet.
  • If you can’t do the above this year, aim to be able to do it next year. Figure out what you need to change to make that happen, and focus on fixing it.

Even if by this time next year you’re still not able to take that offline week, hopefully you’ll have gotten closer to it – and if you’re already working in a good team where you’re not a single point of failure you haven’t got any excuses. Leave the laptop at home, and go take a break. You won’t regret it.