People take digital sabbaticals all the time — getting off Facebook, shutting down the phone, cancelling Netflix. The concept isn’t all that unique.
But I wanted to unplug from it all and still get shit done. I, as a digital marketer, wanted to go analog for a full workday and still write content, read through client interviews, and think through strategies — the same things I almost exclusively digest through a screen.
And so I took my first Wi-Free Workday to see if I could turn it all off — and not just walk away but work away.
Partly, I wanted to take on the challenge of seeing if it could be done — to prove to myself that productivity exists offline, without access to the software, shortcuts, and tools designed to enhance productivity.
But more importantly, I wanted to give myself some love.
I wanted my mind to take a rest from the tug of war of competing demands. I wanted to silence the constant cacophony of text messages, social comments, emails, and phone calls, while still tackling todos. And, acknowledging the growing research on the potentially harmful effects of electromagnetic fields, I wanted to lean into the health benefits of working without a wireless network — even if just for a day.
In describing this day, it might be best to start by defining what it’s not. This day isn’t about bemoaning the dangers or damages of technology. It’s not a call for us to cut all cords, block all waves, and burn all devices.
When my wife showed me a video on her phone the morning of my inaugural Wi-Free Workday, I didn’t toss it in the toilet and expound on the toxic compounds entering her brain. When my five-year-old son ate his breakfast while watching Netflix, I didn’t cancel my account and demand that he go out and make something of his life. Hell, I didn’t even remove the Fitbit from my wrist (though I am considering it next time).
I’m just trying to live less digitally dependendent for a day.
In place of a keyboard, I’m using a pen. In lieu of a screen, I’m looking at paper. Instead of immediate notifications and instant reactions, I’m making myself and others wait 24 hours for a response.
I’ve said it before on here, but it’s damn hard work to find rest these days. Our world has now been designed to operate digitally. Got an idea? Post it on social. Need a break? Binge watch. Want to talk? Text or Snap. Need a gift? Alexa.
We’re now wired to be wirelessly connected, so making this day happen took some planning. Here are a few things I had to do:
First, I had to block a day on my calendar weeks in advance and then protect it ruthlessly to not let digitally-demanding people, meetings, and tasks invade that space.
Leading up to the day, I had to set expectations with key people in my life. For me, that included my wife, son, clients, and team. It didn’t include informing all my social followers or mailbox contacts what I’d be doing in advance. They’d all be fine without forewarning.
Instead, I just set up this out-of-office reply to run for 24 hours:
Hello! I'm taking a workday off wi-fi. Please send carrier pigeons if you need me right away.
Otherwise, we'll talk again tomorrow. Thanks!
I also had to reserve the right kind of work for this day. I couldn’t just wake up one morning and decide to go off Wi-Fi. I needed to find work that could be done in analog form, such as writing blog posts (case in point), editing web copy, and strategizing content outlines.
Because I knew I’d likely want to sneak a peek at Instagram for the high of a “like,” I set up some boundaries to limit those digital drugs, like:
While I wanted to give my body and mind some rest, I also didn’t want to do so at the expense of Mother Earth. And so I tried to find local places to work that didn’t requrire a full tank of gas to access. I also limited the amount of paperwork needed, by reducing four pages of digital content to one piece of paper. And finally, I tried to reduce waste by making and packing my own food for the day.
To be honest, the day started off quite poorly. After rushing to print all my work at the last minute, I then had to hustle to eat breakfast, get dressed, and drop off my son at school. The struggle was real.
But things improved.
As the day went on, several parts of me felt the desired effects:
And in the end, I felt renewed and ready to return home — rather than exhausted and wanting to collapse.
Not all professions offer the luxury of working when, where, and how you want, and not all work can be converted from digital to analog. So what could a Wi-Free Workday look like for you?