2020 is a year of many anniversaries for me. 20 years since graduating college. 20 years of working in professional services (with a 2-year break for grad school). 20 years since I got my first blackberry.
These anniversaries add up to lots to be proud of. But they also add up to something else: 20 years of never being more than a few feet away from my job.
That first blackberry (a pager-like little email machine) led to a second blackberry (a phone / email combo) led to a third blackberry (in color – woohoo!) and finally to an iPhone. And on all of these little magical machines, my work email had a permanent home.
Since 2000 my work has always been project based. By sheer fate – and maybe some careful planning – all of my projects wrapped up in December of 2019 and there was nothing urgent starting in 2020. So I decided to take a full three weeks off. On Friday, December 20th at 4pm I did a three-step dance: create an out-off-office message; close Outlook on my computer; go into my iPhone settings and slide the little button for my work email account to “off”.
Did I do a full digital detox for three weeks? No. I happily used my Gmail to make plans with friends. I gleefully participated in my WhatsApp college besties chat group, after all, we have a reunion to be excited about. I joyfully used an online software to aid me in phone-banking for a presidential candidate. Whenever I sat at my computer, that little Outlook icon was present at the bottom of the screen, and every day I was more relaxed about not opening it. And the work email detox did exactly what it was supposed to: it rejuvenated me, and it made me really look forward to going back to work.
At 9am on Monday, January 13th, it was time to reverse the three-step dance. I opened Outlook. I deactivated the out-of-office message. And I reached for my iPhone. And then I stopped.
Being an advisor to START for the last 18 months has made me more conscious of my digital health and habits. So I asked myself, in a week where I am not traveling, and where there are no urgent deadlines, why does my iPhone need to have work email coming to it? Why was the default to have that little slider in the “on” position? Was it 20 years of sheer habit? Is my sense of self-importance so inflated that I think people need to hear back from me within minutes? Is it a control urge?
Not having work email on my iPhone for those three weeks was so good for my mental health – why not keeping going? So, here is my promise to myself in 2020: the default position of that little slider on my iPhone for work email will be “off”. Yes, there will be exceptions (when I am travelling, when I have a client who’s freaking out about an upcoming board meeting, when there’s a tight deadline)… but those will be exceptions. The default will be “off”.
If your default is “on” – I get it. Mine has been that way for 20 years. Including on most vacations. Even on my honeymoon. It is hard to shake a 20-year habit. But maybe try? Start with a weekend. Then another weekend. Then a whole week. It is addictive. In a good way.