By Leo Babauta
In January, as part of my Year of Living Without, I experimented with limited Internet, and this month I’m going without my cell phone.
Limiting my Internet was a challenge, I have to admit. I make my living on the Internet, do my learning there, teach my kids things, do my finances, plan short trips and longer vacations, read and discover and check up on what’s going on with the world. So limiting this connection felt like I was limiting my life.
That experience alone, of feeling like I’m limiting my life, was worth the effort.
Some things I learned in the past month:
- Just how much I rely on the Internet. For everything.
- I can process email in 15-20 minutes. By process, I mean do a quick task the email requires or put it on my to-do list for later, reply, delete or archive. By the end of the short session, I’m done. I gave myself an hour of Internet at 5pm (or later if I couldn’t do it at 5pm) to take care of email and a few other things.
- But because I had limited Internet time, I felt like I was falling behind on work. I would put lots of things off until 5pm, but couldn’t do all of those things then (I had to work quickly), and so I would prioritize and do the most important/urgent things at 5pm. That meant lots of little things would get delayed, which was fine for about a week. Then things started to pile up.
- I got a lot done. Without the distractions of the Internet, I learned a lot of programming (still not very good). I switched midmonth to Ruby on Rails, which I love but am still learning. I can write a basic Ruby program but haven’t created anything in Rails beyond what I’ve done following tutorials yet.
- I wrote a lot. Writing is much better without the Internet. This is by a factor of 10 or more. When you have the Internet at your disposal, writing often gets interrupted to go check on this or that. But writing with no other good options means you’re going to really be able to focus.
- A short amount of Internet time in the morning turned out to be useful. So midmonth or so, I gave myself the ability to do some limited work tasks in the morning. This made me more productive for my business, but slightly less productive as a writer. It was a good tradeoff though — every decision is a compromise, and I think this was a good one.
- Even making this exception, I didn’t use or need: social media, news, reading blogs or magazines, Snapchat or other sharing services, games, Youtube or other videos, Reddit or Hacker News. So a lot of what I might normally use was not needed, and in fact blocking myself from these things helped me greatly.
- Once you allow a little, you have to be very careful to define your exceptions, or you start down a slippery slope. For example, if I say, “It’s OK to go on Twitter to check on X because I need to find this out for this task” … if I’m not careful, I can easily start checking Twitter for something else that seems important, and then maybe just once for something that’s not important but satisfies my curiosity, and so on.
Given this experience, I’d like to continue to practice limited email and other work-related Internet tasks, allowing myself to focus on writing and programming and other focus-requiring tasks, but giving myself space to take care of the smaller tasks as well. And I’d like to continue to limit my social media, news, video and other less important Internet usage.
Now a Month Without a Cellphone
In February, I’m going without a cellphone. I’ve already started, and it hasn’t been hard yet, but I’m curious what it will be like going for an extended period without one.
Some background: for many years I purposely avoided having a smartphone and mostly just had a dumbphone that could just make calls and texts (though it did have an alarm, worldclock and calculator!) … but in June I got an iPhone as a Father’s Day gift. Since then, I’ve found it useful but very tempting to check all the time. I’ve gotten better at not checking it constantly, but when I’m out and about and not doing anything, checking the phone is still a default.
So this month, I’m going to go without the cellphone. And unlike the Internet, I’m not going to make a bunch of exceptions.
I’ll make one exception because I don’t have a good alternative: my cellphone will be my alarm clock only.
Other than that, the phone will be off all day. I won’t bring it out with me. I’ll have to look up directions before I leave the house. I’ll be unreachable for any reason. I won’t know the time as I have no watch. I won’t do Anki flashcards or read Instapaper or look at my kids’ Snapchats or check my email or read my blogs on Feedly. Nada.
Wish me luck!