The first time that I came across the idea of “offline days” was when I was listening to a Tim Ferriss podcast episode a few years ago.
Tim was chatting to Kevin Rose and it came up in conversation that Tim does something that he called ‘Screenless Saturdays’. No computers, no phones, no TV. He would take this day to just reset, spend time with loved ones, cultivate a new/existing hobby, read books, take walks and anything else that doesn’t involve a screen.
I liked this idea a lot, so I started to toy with something called “offline days”. It’s similar to Tim’s ‘Screenless Saturdays’, but a little less strict.
Essentially, “offline days” are where you take a day to step away from the interwebs and spend more time doing things away from your phone or computer. In a world that is increasingly fast-paced, productivity-focused and obsessed with technology, I am starting to find these days are getting more and more necessary.
In all honesty, it doesn’t even have to be a day. It can be an offline morning or an offline week. Whatever you feel that you need to take a bit of time to step away from everything and reset your mind, body and energy.
There is no real right or wrong way to carry out an offline day, but there are definitely some ways that you can maximise the benefits of “offline days”. Here are six of my favourites to get you started:
One of the main reasons why I and many others even advocate for “offline days” in the first place is to be able to reset from the intensity of modern work life.
For many people, long-gone are the days where you pick up work at a certain time and leave it at a certain time. Crazier hours are more common and weekend work is often necessary. Not to mention the encroachment of emails and general worry in hours that are meant for leisure and not work.
During offline days, you will likely discover a lot of space throughout your day that is filled with nothingness. You may even find yourself bored on more than one occasion. This is good. It is a sign that you are craving some sort of action or distraction – a craving that these types of days are designed to distance you from and open your eyes to so that you can work to be at peace with things like boredom.
So take the time to seek out the silence and space in your day. Be mindful in those moments between tasks or as you get up or sit down from your chair. Take a moment to step back and come back to the present moment. This is how you will extract the most benefit from your offline days.
If you are a bit of a workaholic, it can be tempting to replace your phone and other technology that you are temporarily sacrificing for some other productivity-focused activities.
There is nothing wrong with reading that new self-improvement book that you haven’t gotten around to yet and squeezing in an extra gym session isn’t going to do you any harm either.
However, it is worth noting that these activities tend to be a means to an end, rather than ends in themselves. Reading that book in order to fix a problem. Doing an extra workout in order to feel productive or double-down on a goal.
The point of offline days though isn’t to double-down, it’s to slow down. It’s to pull away from goals and achievements and the future just for a short time and return to the present and all of the things that give life its colour and beauty: art, creativity, music, relaxation and peace.
Taking this into account, make sure that you schedule activities that are ends in themselves. In other words, do something because you want to do it for its own sake, not as a tool. Read a fiction book. Listen to your favourite playlist. Draw, doodle, paint. If you are doing the activity just for the fun of it, you’re on the right track.
Our normal workdays provide perfect excuses for staying locked up inside and away from the healing power of nature.
Computers are indoors, offices are indoors, TVs are indoors. Even ‘leisurely places’ like the kitchen and living rooms of our homes are indoors. It’s very easy to live a life almost completely indoors. And yet, not a whole lot of ‘life’ unfolds indoors. What’s more, there are so many proven benefits of taking some time in nature that it could fill a number of pages the size of a phonebook (remember those?).
Even aside from the often-cited health benefits, walking and getting out in nature is great for peace of mind and coming up with ‘lightbulb moments’. Quite often, the analytical conscious mind can block the ideas of the creative subconscious mind. Once we put the thinking conscious mind to one side, the ideas from the subconscious start to flow through. This is why our best ideas tend to come when we’re in relaxed places like the shower rather than thinking hard at our desk.
Famous people who were known to take long walks into nature to reset and allow their next big idea come to them include Friedrich Nietzsche, Nikola Tesla, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Darwin, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King and Ulysses S. Grant to name just a few. There are some pretty smart mentors and people on that list, why not join them?
Social time is an extremely important aspect of wellbeing, regardless of whether you are partaking in an offline day or just going through any normal day of your life. Like with most other things on this list, it is usually work and our addiction to technology that suck up all of our free time – including spending time with those closest to us.
That is why it is essential to schedule and maximise as much social time as possible during your “offline days”. If you aren’t able to do it on an offline day, when are you going to be able to do it?
Good-quality social time is not only going to leave you feeling energised and connected, but it is also going to bring you closer to those that you care about and remind you about what life is really about.
That sounds like a pretty good deal.
At the end of every “offline day”, I take the opportunity to sit down and reflect (usually through some form of journaling) on what I enjoyed, what I felt challenged by, what didn’t really work and what I was surprised by – positively or negatively.
For example, at the end of one particular offline day, I might reflect and realise that I was bored far more than I expected to be. Maybe that means my attention isn’t really in my control right now and I should schedule some more offline days.
Another time, I might reflect and realise that all I wanted to do all day was get back to work after a great idea sprung to mind while I was on a walk. I can then try and channel that enthusiastic energy back into my normal working days.
Sometimes, I might reflect on my offline day and not have anything to report on. There were no ‘a-ha moments’, no strong emotions, no dying to get back to technology and no reluctance to go back to technology either. How you react to any of these things that I mention are deeply personal, but for these days it tends to mean that I don’t really need as many offline days right now – everything is running fairly smoothly. And that’s okay too.
Remember that there are no real ‘good’ or ‘bad’ reflections. There are only the things that you observe, and what you want to do about them.
Based on your reflections and your own personal experience with ‘offline days’, it will eventually be time to come back online. As mentioned in the introduction, ‘offline days’ is an extremely loose term and an offline three hours or an offline week can be just as effective, depending on what you think that you need.
The whole point of offline days is for you to see another perspective of your life that is less automatic and less bombarded by technology, work, deadlines and other stressors.
With this new perspective, you might come to the realisation that walking in nature actually does help you to think more clearly. You might discover – like Winston Churchill – that a leisurely activity like painting really helps to clear your head and so you vow to add it into the middle of your busy ‘normal’ days.
Take the time to review what you liked from the offline days and add it in.
Take the time to review what you didn’t miss from your online days, and get rid of it for good.