Disconnect to reconnect: my 5 harsh truths

“We’re born, we live for a brief instant, and we die. It’s been happening for a long time. Technology is not changing it much – if at all.” — Steve Jobs

Well I disagree with Mr Jobs. I believe technology is absolutely changing the way we experience life, and on a recent world trip I realised just how much it was affecting mine. Now I’m back I have five realisations that show just how far I’d allowed my technology obsession to take me.

So, I'd decided to take some time to travel and reconnect with the things that inspired me. A self-confessed technology obsessive with a burning need to make the most of every second, I was ready to blog and document the trip daily. When my computer failed in the first week of my four-month adventure, I was forced to disconnect. The horror! Well, sometimes things happen that are devastating at the time - but you do later appreciate the lessons learnt.

This is when I turned to the wisdom of Carrie Bradshaw (Sex & The City of course) for solace: ‘the best we can do is breathe and reboot’.  I decided it was time to break some habits, create some balance between my on- and offline worlds, and be mindful beyond my 20 minutes of daily meditation.  

5 truths  

1. Too much connection, can disconnect you.

Stranded without my laptop, often with no service, I began to understand just how distracting my technology was and that real downtime was a very rare commodity. Yes I meditate, do bootcamp and yoga - all Zen techniques for clearing the mind; but outside of that, ‘relaxation’ time was actually spent multitasking and ‘just finishing something’. Watch this and see if any of this looks familiar to you.

FOMO (fear of missing out) and over-connecting with technology actually led to me under-connecting with the things that really mattered. I realised I had to stop being connected in a shallow way with my many devices and make sure I really connected with the people and everyday experiences that made me tick.  And boy was it worth it. I was totally immersed in my experiences, new cultures and fascinating conversations that have made my heart race and ideas flow.  

2. Productivity tools make me unproductive

Operating under the delusion that all my feeds were streamlined, my social media channels prioritised, inbox categorised, with my mobile always on for anything ‘urgent’, super efficient Aisha was allowing unimportant tasks to dominate, increasing my to do list, extending my active working hours and distracting me from the now. I was exhausted and it was time to put some limits on my information consumption. I needed to give myself time to walk, observe and think.

Now, I have decluttered and am controlling my connected time, which has already made me feel much more focused and productive. Habits are hard to break but you have to find what works for you.

3. I actually survived without my email for 48 hours.

Physiologists say that checking your phone is like a yawn: it’s habitual and contagious. I believe strongly that it’s important to get back to customers and colleagues as quickly as possible. Unfortunately this belief saw me become a compulsive phone/email checker over the last few years.  

Only when I was in the remote Annapurnas trekking or in remote Indian villages without WIFI, did I come to appreciate the beauty of not being connected and the simplicity of what was around me. As the days passed and I detoxed from technology, the FOMO wore off and I realised that if there was anything desperately urgent someone would be able to catch me at my next connected destination. It was liberating and I want to try and remember that feeling when I am back-connected 24/7. 

4. I can actually sleep more than 4 hours.

Over the last few years I was seeing my diminishing need for sleep as a real asset, a great opportunity to get online at 3am and speak with my international counterparts and finish that proposal. What was I thinking? Of course after checking my phone in the middle of the night and glancing at my messages I wasn’t able to get back to sleep. We know that the artificial light from our screens increases alertness and suppresses the hormone melatonin by up to 22% which negatively affects our sleep, performance and mood, but I still felt compelled to look. It was becoming endemic. 

Now, after consciously disengaging and enjoying four months of six to eight hours sleep a night, I have bought myself a traditional alarm clock and am leaving the phone in the lounge. Everything can always wait until the morning.

5. I was vacant on vacations.

Last, but absolutely not least, I wasn’t allowing my holidays to recharge the batteries – just the opposite. I was using the time to read up on industry reports, keep on top of my inbox, add to my ever-increasing to do list and give myself headspace to come up with ‘big ideas’ to cut through the industry noise. Looking back, it is not normal to be waking up at 3am to jot ideas on your holiday. I now appreciate what I really needed was a vacation from myself.

Now that I’m home and well aware of these truths (not completely transformed but slowly breaking habits), I am going to make a conscious effort to change how I utilise my energy.

A challenge. 

Do you spend most of your waking life staring at a screen?  Are you willing to disconnect to reconnect?

I appreciate that not everyone has the luxury of taking time off to be a global explorer; however I do strongly urge you to take even one hour a day to just walk, do something out of the ordinary and the benefits will be ten fold. 

My four months of travelling have taken me on such an amazing adventure however coming home has also really made me appreciate the simple and mundane things of my everyday life. Reflecting, I realise now just how much more present I have been in the last few months than in the last few years. This journey has led me to want to create, explore, innovate, challenge and give back over the next few. I am excited.