Offline Sundays

I recently read an article in a Dutch newspaper (nrc.next, Sept. 26) about Tony Crabbe‘s view on work and busyness. According to Tony Crabbe, we should stop being so busy (and proud of it!) and focus more on what is really important. It’s not managing our time that matters, but managing our attention.

‘To get most out of your day, manage your attention, not your time.’ Tony Crabbe, Business Psychologist

One of the things that keeps us ‘busy’ at all times, is the fact that we are always ‘connected’. Not necessarily to the world around us, but connected to the online world. With a smartphone close at hand, we have permanent access to email, Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, etc. There is literally ‘never a dull moment’. We are always ‘switched on’. We get restless when there is ‘nothing to do’. And that is a problem, because we need moments of disconnectedness, times of ’emptiness’ to connect to the real world, in order to have real and meaningful interaction with other people and to focus on the world that is actually there. When we disconnect our brains from the online busyness, we become more creative and more involved with others.

And I see this happening to me too! Wherever I am, my phone is always with me, as a good companion. Whether I am at home or somewhere else, if there is a dull moment, I just look at my phone if there is a message or email, or to see if someone posted anything interesting on Facebook. Even if I am busy, I ‘need’ to check my phone every now and then. It becomes a habit.

Unlike many African people (as I have observed), I am not able to ‘just’ wait or sit and do nothing. Nothing at all, not even reading a book or talking to someone. Just nothing. And waiting is a big part of daily life in Africa, for many people. Waiting for your turn in a clinic. Standing in line to vote. Standing in line at the bank. Standing in line to pay your water bill, the electricity bill, your taxes.

Waiting in line at a health centre in Bolemba, Central African Republic. Photograph by Pierre Holtz/UNICEF.

Waiting in line at a health centre in Bolemba, Central African Republic. Photograph by Pierre Holtz/UNICEF.

Living in Tanzania, I also need to stand in line and wait sometimes. But I always bring something to do. I read on my Kindle, or on my phone. I guess I grew up being ‘busy’, even before there were smartphones.

I don’t think I will be able to change that completely. And I don’t think that is necessary. But I do want to be able to ‘disconnect’ from the online world at times, in order to connect more intentionally with the world and people around me (or to just read a book – but perhaps that is only the old-fashioned way of disconnecting from the world…).

Layout 1So, to break the habit of always checking that phone, I decided to go offline on Sundays. I will turn off my phone as much as possible, or at least set it in airplane mode or disable internet connectivity, and just put it away. I did this the last two Sundays, and I noticed that I kept glancing at my phone, even though it was not even on! Bad habits are hard to break… But it did give me a sense of freedom and it was even reluctantly that I switched on my phone again on Monday.

Do you feel you need to disconnect more to focus on the real world? Join me for Offline Sundays. And tell me about in on Monday. 🙂

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