How I Unplugged and Lived to Tell About It

Earlier this month, my wife Gail and I took a much-needed vacation. We rented a house on a lake in the mountains near Monteagle, Tennessee. We were there for two weeks.

On the Deck at Monteagle, Tennessee

After my book launch and our daughter’s wedding, we were both feeling the need to get away. We wanted a place where we could rest, reconnect, and refill our spiritual and emotional tanks.

As a prerequisite to this time away, I decided to completely unplug from e-mail and social media. I wanted to experience a complete “digital detox.”

The evening before I left:

  • I deleted all the social media applications from my iPhone. This included HootSuite, Google+, and Facebook. I planned to simply reinstall them after my vacation.
  • I disabled all my e-mail accounts except for one. I set up a special “urgent” account that my colleagues could use in an emergency. If there was something I needed to see, I instructed them to text me, then send a message to this account.
  • I made an announcement on my blog. I told my readers that I would be offline in order to set their expectations.
  • I set my out-of-office messages. I did this on my e-mail accounts and also in my Twitter bio. I let people know that I was on vacation and offline. I gave them instructions about what to do if there was an emergency.
  • I closed my social media pages in my web browser. This took discipline, because I still wanted to have access to the Internet for reading and research. Thankfully, this didn’t prove to be a problem.
  • I gave authority to my team to act in my absence. I gave them the perimeters and told them I would support any decisions they made while I was away.

Being unplugged went surprisingly well.

During the first twenty-four hours, I found myself compulsively starting to check my e-mail and social media accounts. I often do this when I am waiting for anything—stopped at a red light (I know, I know), standing in line, or in between projects. But I caught myself, didn’t check, and eventually stopped checking.

Almost immediately, I saw my attention span increase. Gail and I spent every morning being quiet, reflecting, and journaling. We did a lot of reading. I didn’t feel the usual hurry-up and-finish pressure I experience in my normal life.

Gail and I had several incredible conversations. Without the distraction of e-mail and social media, we were able to focus and dive deeper in our discussions. We were really able to reconnect. We just enjoyed being with one another. (We also celebrated our thirty-fourth anniversary!)

Overall, I felt a huge sense of relief—kind of like when you are in a noisy restaurant and then step outside to a quiet night. I didn’t realize how noisy my environment had become. As the first few days passed, I felt the stress drain from my body and my psyche.

I did have one situation that required me to get back online for about twenty-four hours. As you may have read, HarperCollins closed its acquisition of Thomas Nelson. This required a board meeting and some follow-up calls. But it was soon resolved, and I went back offline.

My biggest take-away from these two weeks is that I need more margin in my life. This is something I’ve known for a while. I’ve even written about it. But I am determined to be more intentional about it.

Since being home, I have continued to journal every morning. I am also saying No to additional commitments, so I can make sure I have time for those priorities that matter most. I feel like my tank is full again.

If you haven’t ever deliberately unplugged for a specific period of time, I encourage you to do so. Even if you can only manage forty-eight hours, it’s worth it. Trust me, you need it more than you think. We all do.

Question: When was the last time you unplugged? What were the results? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Amy K. Sorrells

    I announced online last week I was going offline for a month, but I’ve cheated a little. Okay, a LOT. I had guest posts and scheduled posts and even though I knew I didn’t HAVE to check them, I did anyway. So frustrating how tasty social media can be, and how quickly it can turn into a sort of time-distorting obesity, of sorts. My favorite idea of yours here: Deleting apps of my I-everything. Brillian!!! So now, for the remainder of these three weeks, I’m seriously, totally, and REALLY going offline. (Hopefully I’ll shed a few unwanted, margin-steaing pounds in the process.) Thanks so much for this important and convicting post!

  • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

    I know I need to unplug more frequently when I “park” my phone as I come home from work, so that I can be engaged with my wife and kids, and I still feel it vibrate in my pocket. The ghost vibrate—am I the only one? 

  • http://www.williamsjim.com/ Jim Williams

    It’s been a while since I completely unplugged. I remember that it was a nice quiet time. Everywhere I look and everywhere I read it seems that God is telling me to ensure I take a day of rest and unplug regularly.
    Thanks for this post!

  • John Habib

    Love the post!  I am reminded of a podcast on Conciliar Press where you talk about how your wife enjoyed some unplugged time at a monastery, and I think about all those Christian monks out there, especially the hermits, who are able to quiet the world so much that they can find God in the deep recesses of silent prayer of the heart.  May God give us that same peace and more.  

  • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

    I used to unplug starting 6 pm every Friday evening until 6 am Monday morning. One of the best disciplines I’ve ever established! Unfortunately, I’ve gotten away from it lately, and it shows. I’m just not wired to stay engaged 24/7. I need quiet and a less-stimulated environment to refuel. When I realized this earlier this week, I decided to block off tomorrow through Monday morning for a detox. Looking forward to it.

    • http://amysorrells.wordpress.com/ Amy K. Sorrells

      I used to do that, too. Called it my “e-free weekends.” I’m going to have to re-initiate that habit, for sure. Detox, indeed, especially for those of us who are poster children for introverts. It’s just not healthy for us or those we llove and live with to be “wired in” all the time. Enjoy your weekend!

  • http://www.accidentallygreen.com Hilary Bernstein

    I unplugged for a week this summer, and it was amazing. I didn’t know if I’d be tempted to check my social media accounts, but I completely enjoyed the time with my family. I couldn’t believe how much more I was able to relax. Of course, I’m happy to be online again, but I want to plan for another week off next summer. Glad you were able to take a two week break, Michael!

  • http://www.theworld4realz.com/ Andi-Roo

    I think on my hubz’ next vaca, we will spend some time in a cheap-o motel room, still close to home so we can be near the kids in case of emergencies, & to save on gas / travelling costs. Even a weekend unplugged would be nice. We need some quiet time to just chat & hang out. Thanks for the reminder to make this an intentional activity rather than a passing fancy! :)

  • Sue G.

    I unplug while on vacation, mostly because I don’t have the fancy traveling tools that others have that would keep me connected. I don’t have a laptop or a tablet or smart phone, so unplugging while away is easy for me. The funny thing is that I don’t miss it at all! I am very much in touch while home and at the office but when I’m away I don’t feel the need to stay connected. My spirit is full of the new experiences around me and I even think that connecting with my regular world would spoil things. I recommend it wholeheartedly. 

  • Keys_rule_7

    It’s so true what you said!  Sometimes we feel we can’t live without these ‘toys’  but when we unplugged we realized these are just some thrill we can go without and it does us so much good.   I did that couple times and I found that when I did, my quality of my life was even better.  If I want to keep up with this quality life I just need to learn to moderate my use of the internet and learn to unplug when it’s time.   

  • dawnMHSH

    Sometimes I unplug a little bit in one area or another if I’m feeling burned out. I think being deliberate and intentional about it, like you did, would be an even bigger help. It’s crazy to think that we’ll miss out on something or become obsolete if we take a break. It’s just necessary sometimes.

  • http://www.spch.org.au/ Bren McLean

    Congratulations on the ‘unplug’, that seems to have been so rewarding for you both.
    Like many people today, you could be suffering from ‘infobesity’, the addictive need to consume too much unimportant bits of information :-)
    Only times of fasting like you have had can cure us!

  • Briank Ives

    Looking forward to going on vacation in a few weeks, hopefully I can unplug and gather some fresh thinking.

  • Michael Rodgers

    During my one vacation this year I totally unplugged.  I only turned my phone on 3 times to either make a call to confirm availability to our next destination and  just to check messages (mind you I have a “dumb phone”; I can only make phone calls).  No Ipod, laptop, or other devices. My countenance and mood were so relaxed, even my kids commented that they wanted to keep the vacation going (and still are after a month) because I was totally plugged into them

  • http://www.billgraybill.com/ Bill Graybill

    For 11 years we have taken 3 weeks in March in Florida. Different degrees of disconnect and one year I started writing my book. What a mistake. Never again.

    I ride my bike 25-30 miles each morning, walk the beach in the afternoon. Basically I get bored and stay bored for 3 weeks. Best medicine I could take.

    Like you I come home determined to put greater margins in my life. My downfall: I slowly return to the marginless life.

    Already have my reservations in for March 2013.

  • Bryon White

    Mr. Hyatt,
    I am a relatively new reader on your blog.  Much of what you write connects well with where I am in life and leadership.  My wife and I have 3 kids (10 yrs,7 yrs ,8weeks), we just sold our house and moved a couple miles and purchased our new home.  In addition to a sell, move, buy and new baby, the church I pastor is in a building project (my first). 

    Recently, I sat down to literally strategize about “how to” vacation this summer and do what I am calling “Unplug August”! 

    Thanks so much for your ideas they really helped give me the confidence I need to make this happen!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      You are welcome, Bryon. Thanks for stopping by.

  • http://kevinmartineau.blogspot.com Kevin M.

    After having to be forced into taking a time of unplugging (medical leave) 5 years ago I have made it a priority to unplug regularly.  I seek to live by this principle: schedule life around my breaks instead of breaks around my life.  It isn’t always easy but it is well worth it!

  • http://www.margaretfeinberg.com/ Margaret

    last Monday–I didn’t unplug for two weeks, but just a day. I left my laptop behind and went on my own adventures. I need this margin to refresh myself.

    Congrats on the 34th anniversary!

  • http://livetheneweconomy.com/ Mike

    I’m increasing the frequency and duration of my unplugs.  I enjoyed the specific strategies here.

  • http://twitter.com/rmw1221 Bob Wright

    Thanks Michael for this reminder of the importance of unplugging from our stressful busy lives once in awhile. You also reminded me of the importance, even day to day, of reflecting on God’s Word and value and simplicity of keeping a personal journal. God bless!

  • http://awakemysoulblog.com/ Laura Crosby

    Some friends and I have been using Jen Hatmaker’s book, “7, A mutiny against Excess” for our own experiment this summer.  Going without media (including my phone and everything on it) highlighted both the benefits and detriments of media in my life.  The biggest learning?  I have no boundaries in this area and need them! I did a couple of posts here http://wp.me/p1K985-Jz.

  • http://www.thehahnhuntinglodge.com/ Nikole Hahn

    I refuse to get a phone with internet because it forces me to only plug in when I am in a wi-fi area or at home. This allows me to interact in public without distraction. Also, when we camp or hike we do not plug in. Sometimes, I even take evenings where I won’t plug in (these have been few though). I’m working on trying to take Sunday afternoons and unplug. That’s been a failure. When I work full time and write full time, it makes my schedule tight. So it’s more important than ever to plan downtime. 

  • Kingtubbo

    As a birthday gift to myself, I recently spent four days out in the desert (by Joshua Tree) during which I unplugged. I had no internet, no e-mail, no telephone, no television, not even a radio (car radio dead). I read newspapers in restaurants to keep up with headlines. I scratched out some ideas I have for a fiction piece using pen and paper. I enjoyed the savage beauty of the land (and the savage temps!), a great full moon on my birthday, and had a lot of time to reflect on what I wanted to do in the upcoming year.
    I felt more energetic and slept better than I had in years. When I came home I found that nothing had fallen apart because I wasn’t online. I realized that while technology is all well and fine for business purposes (and I work in an internet-based business, so it’s actually my lifeblood), it has become a tremendous time-suck of my free time and somewhat stilted my social life. I spend an idiotic amount of my personal time sitting in front of my PC and sometimes feel hostage to it. I’m trying to rectify that scenario.

  • http://www.trailways.com/team-trailways/motorcoach-listing-companies/companies/fullington bus companies in PA

    I have been thinking about unplugging during our upcoming vacation. I like the idea, but to really turn off my cellphone & leave the laptop at home are hard. Thanks for the inspiration and testifying that life won’t end or go bitterly wrong just because I “unplug”.

  • http://ThisMomsDelight.com Tami @ ThisMomsDelight.com

    I have been spending more time offline since I became pregnant…only because I’m exhausted.  I’m finding that facebook is such a consuming app on my phone.  I should give it some ‘time off’ and delete the app.

  • Denise McClain

    A couple of weeks ago, I decided to have bilateral carpal tunnel release surgery (so please excuse any typos). I’m a book reviewer, copy editor for a medium-sized publisher, and am working on my thesis, in addition to all the other day-to-day socialization items I do. As I’m in grad school, I’ve already severely limited my Twitter time and am not a fan of Facebook although I do use a Twitter client to check my FB timeline occasionally. Two weeks before my surgery I began alerting people of my upcoming online hiatus. The week after surgery, I had a friend or family member scroll through my inbox (I have several addresses migrating into one email client) to make sure nothing required my immediate attention, which someone else would have to type for me. Nothing did. What’s funny is that I didn’t miss online chatting via IM clients, didn’t miss constant checking on various social media for potential news. It’s just reminded me that as I enter the last leg of my post-baccalaureate degree, I’ll be maintaining a bit of that social media silence…for my own well-being.

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  • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

    Thanks, Jennifer. I’m so glad you connected via Social Media Examiner!

  • Amber

    great article! Thanks so much for sharing this and thanks for applying the discipline to do this. I appreciate the practical steps as well!!

  • Bob M.

    I love being around and am energized by people.  BUT, I have made it a practice over the last couple of years to unplug every August for the month.  It’s the last bit of summer.  No TV, very little email if any and no Facebook.  I spend time with family, get outside and recreate a little more and read.  It’s a great habit and I look forward to it!

  • Swninetails

    I LOVE your story! I am actually a software engineer by trade but I do NOT own a cell phone and have no intention of ever getting another – I also have strict rule to not turn the computer on when I get home, I love being in control of my life and not allowing constant interruptions that can totally wait until I want to address them. I think the next 10 years is going to prove your right on the money – stress is out of control, demands are out of control – no one has time to pay attention to anyone because they are so busy paying half attention to everyone, all the time…

  • S. Kim Henson

    I know how you feel. Our mountain house is secluded so there’s no TV except to watch movies and only dialup internet access, so it’s easy to NOT connect. The house is beside a mountain stream so not only am I offline, but also in tune with nature. It’s heavenly, and I always feel better when I come home from there. 

    Thanks for reminding me to be more intentional when I’m back home and back to work. 

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  • ms. v.

    Are there apps that can do some of these things automatically? I’d like to shut off my work email during certain hours, or limit Twitter, FB, etc. during other hours… it would be easier to set this up and have it run automatically. 

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  • Bryan

    I have been unplugged for two months now. No facebook, instagram, etc.  I downgraded my smartphone to a brick phone. There are good and bad things but I am adapting. 

    The good things are :
    1. Silence the noise
    2. extra time
    3. Probably the most important to me is being present.  Although i could physically be out with friends I dont really have any reason to check my phone. So i am mentally present and engaged in conversation and actvity.  

     just truly enjoy things. it used to be that when seeing a beautiful sunset or scenery my first instinct was take out my phone and post to facebook. or check in somewhere cool.  now i just take in the scenery as it is. its very wholesome. you notice all the small details, and no matter how good your camera is, everything always looks better live.  as for checking in , usually youll do it in the lobby of places, some lobbies are surprisingly nice and have cool subtle things that you cant notice when your looking at your phone.
    4. at trainings and seminars you sit up front and never take out your phone and the speaker will love you. its sad but literally everyone has their smartphones out during these things.
    5. you dont get run over by priuses by staring down at your phone.

    the bad things are:
    1. no fb events. le sigh
    2. slight damper on networking. its a lot easier to find someone on facebook than to find out their email addresses. also most people i know dont email a lot. 

    All in all, unplugging has freed up time for me to think about the things i need to think about. life goals and stuff. sometimes i miss it but i feel fine without it now.

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  • Alison Proctor

    unplugging is the best thing in the world to do and go somewhere that re’awakens our senses. We have finally tuned communication, but our spiritual side needs attention, glad you got it.

  • Ronnie

    I unplugged the instant my wife upgraded on our Verizon plan. Once it became the “share” plan I had too. She was playing with her new smart phone so just coasted for a month. Uninstalled everything. It was refreshing after a week or so, but the first few days were tough. I am almost back to my old self again.

  • Cailey Dumler

    I unplugged recently for a couple of days. My pastor recommends (more like requires) each of us to take a 3-day Sabbatical every 3 months. Most of us neglect doing this until a later date. I came back refueled and rejuvenated! Thank you for the fresh and much needed reminder to “unplug” frequently…even for shorter periods of time.

  • Russ Watson AIA

    I’ve discussed the concept of an ‘unplugged’ resort or entire community for that matter with staffers and many others. We’ve come to one conclusion “It would be great, so why not do it?’ Stay tuned and I’ll text you our progress reports…..

  • Madhu

    I endorse this. A great way to rediscover oneself.

  • Ethan Bolvi

    I am a work-a-holic by nature. It’s hard for me to unplug. I have gotten better at it, but one thing that I have found to be the perfect solution is going on a cruise! My wife and I took our first cruise with family a few years ago. We loved it! It was the most relaxed and stress free I have been in years! One great thing about it is I don’t feel like I have to ‘will’ myself into not checking social media, email, etc. It simply does not work when you are out on a cruise (unless you want to pay big bucks for it). So my wife and I try to take a cruise once a year to Bermuda where we can rent a moped, spend time together on the beach, and just enjoy the beauty of the island and time together. Those cruises have been a lifesaver for us! I come back refreshed and with a full tank every time!

  • http://482gr8.wordpress.com/ 482gr8.wordpress.com

    I enjoy a “Sabbath Social Media Fast” almost every Sunday.

  • Keith Spanberger

    I myself made a decision to unplug every Sunday and it has been a refreshing thing each week for me. I even created a facebook page ( http://www.facebook.com/day2unplug ) to try and help others do the same. Thanks Michael once again for a great post! Blessings – Keith