How I Survived a Week in the Digital Wilderness

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Last month, I found myself in the middle of a digital intervention. On what appeared to be a normal Monday morning for everybody else, I found myself locked out of email, my agenda, WhatsApp, Instagram, iMessage and all other forms of communication – except public tweets on Twitter. Why? Because I was an addict. And I needed a detox (according to everyone else).

You might wonder why I allowed my team to do this to me – but once I was forced to realise that nine hours a day glued to a phone wasn’t normal (apparently five is about right), I accepted that I could make improvements to the way that I worked.

I also wanted to see if communicating solely via one communications channel would make me more creative and spontaneous, or cripple me. As the CEO of global reputation management company FinchFactor, I was curious to see if this exercise in restraint would help me prioritise what I really need from a cross-borders digital life – both personally and professionally.

The sorry seven days are now over, and I’m pleased to say it’s definitely had a positive effect on how I work.

I expected to find this experiment a challenge. I didn’t expect to revert to classic addict stereotype and ‘lose it’. Within the first 24 hours of digital lock-down, I’d left my laptop in the back of a taxi, forgotten my phone charger at the hotel, tried to cheat by cracking the new email password, left my mobile on the hotel bar, begged to bend the rules, and forgotten to take part in a conference call. All of which pretty much supports the claim that the first day is the hardest. Whilst I didn’t break down in tears, my eyes did somewhat moisten during team lunch when I began to appreciate the impact of an absent MacBook Air.

So what have I learned?

1. Changing behavioral habits/addictions from one day to the next scrambles your brain. It is unsettling and effectively pulls the rug from beneath your feet. Hence my loss of laptop, phone charger and phone. I also left my house keys at the office and forgot to lock my bike.

2. Make sure in advance that clients understand the why, how and when of #DigitalDetox Week, and are confident that their business won’t suffer. Ensure there are safety nets in place to capture curveballs.

3. Under these circumstances, travel is tough. It’s one thing to talk with a colleague two meters away to inform/check/respond. It’s not so easy to stay plugged in whilst in transit, abroad and alone. Even checking in for a flight becomes problematic.

4. Don’t be late. If people aren’t on Twitter, how do you let them know you’re running ten minutes behind schedule?

5. Code words are fun. Because all communication has been public, I had to be prepared to discuss sensitive issues in the open. I had fun talking shop with @louston in a secret language.

6. Going public forces priorities. Rather than communicate via a public tweet, many contacts either talked with a different member of the team, or didn’t get in touch at all, preferring to ‘leave it until next week’. An ‘is this urgent/important?’ filter came into play.

7. Facebook gets in the way of a productive workweek. It is wallpaper, background noise and a distraction.

8. I’m surprised at the lack of missed calls. Yes, my daily quota was three (15 minutes total), but that shouldn’t stop people calling me. Using messaging, texts and Whatsapp rather than calling is a way of multi-tasking, perhaps, but hiding behind tech removes the standout personal touch. I missed that personal touch.

Whilst my mother embraced the challenge and joined Twitter to keep in touch with me (bless), many friends and business associates don’t use Twitter as a daily communications tool. It was my detox challenge, after all, not theirs. Their communications habits were not being altered, restricted and re-calibrated over a seven-day period. Getting in touch with everyone I wanted to reach, therefore, has taken some lateral thinking, including creative use of photography, video diary, Google search, and wider networking via-via. Thursday saw me cycle across Amsterdam to deliver a document on a USB stick.

Did I cheat? I tried at first, but ultimately, no. I’m stronger for it and there have been some clear wins. I now have a deeper understanding of how better to leverage Twitter as a platform. I am down with gifs like never before. We have a new Twitter-generated business opportunity at FinchFactor. I looked up and caught the sun on my face. I don’t feel the knee-jerk need to check in with Facebook. I’ll be picking up the phone to make more calls. And yesterday? I slept through the night for seven whole hours, without checking my phone once. Result.

Follow Kerrie @KerrieFinch

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