The Importance of Unplugging
On Sunday, I did something I haven’t done for months: I say down and read a book almost cover-to-cover.
I mean, I say almost – I got to about 70% complete according to my Kindle app (so, er, I guess I can’t really say “cover-to-cover” either. “Electronic artwork to 70% complete” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, though, does it?), which isn’t that great, especially given that there was a time when I used to regularly get through 3 – 4 books a week, but it’s still about 60% more than I normally manage to read in one sitting, so I’ll take it.
The thing is, it’s not that I don’t have time to read these days. I’m very good at convincing myself I’m OMGSUPERBUSY all the time, but even I know I’d have trouble making that one stick because my problem isn’t that there’s not enough time, it’s that I don’t always manage my time effectively. And by “not always” I mean “not ever, really”. My other problem, meanwhile, is The Guilt: that ever-present conviction that there’s something else I should be doing instead, and that if I don’t go and do that thing RIGHTTHISVERYSECOND, why the world will most probably come to an end. I think that feeling is something most self-employed people have at some point (or which most PEOPLE have, let’s be honest), but it’s particularly true of blogging, which is one of those “never switch off” kind of jobs.
There’s always another email to answer, or a tweet to respond to. There’s always another social media account to update, stats to monitor, comments to read. There’s always an idea for a post which you have to write down before you forget, or a perfect photo opportunity, which will be lost if you don’t capture it. And because all of this happens online, there’s always another notification on your phone, to tell you about whatever it is that you should be doing.
Because of this, my phone has become my constant companion. It’s the first thing I look at when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I check when I get into bed at night. It’s either in my hand or at my elbow all day long: it’s never switched off, and it’s never very far from my thoughts. Which is ridiculous, really. I mean, it’s a PHONE, for God’s sake. It’s not my whole LIFE… even although sometimes it feels like my whole life is neatly packed inside it.
Well, on Saturday night I forgot to plug my phone in to charge as usual, which mean that by Sunday morning it was running low on power, and by midday it had died completely. Under normal circumstances I’d plug it in to charge and keep right on using it in the meantime, but for some reason, that day I decided to just let it die, and stay dead for the rest of the day. Instead of checking it obsessively, constantly opening up the WordPress app to quickly write down another idea, or scrolling through my Instagram feed for the eleventy-first time that day, I downloaded a book from Amazon, poured myself a mug of coffee (which I didn’t Instagram – I think that means the coffee didn’t actually exist? Or something?), and sat down to read something that wasn’t a blog for the first time in God knows how long.
It was kinda weird, to be honest. Normally when I read (and, I mean, it’s not like I don’t read AT ALL, these days, obviously: it’s just that I normally do it in fits and starts, getting in a few paragraphs before bed, adding up to maybe a couple of chapters over the same amount of days…) I’ll have one hand on my phone, and I’ll be constantly picking it up to check stuff, or looking at the time and telling myself there isn’t enough of it, so I should put down the book and do something useful instead. But, of course, reading a book IS doing something useful, isn’t it? If nothing else, it gives your mind a break from all of the noise that buzzes around and threatens to deafen you every day, and that’s no small thing.
Lately, though, I haven’t really been getting that. Because I’m constantly thinking about all of those other things I should be doing, I’ll try to read something, only to realise I’ve turned over two pages without actually taking in anything that I’ve read on them. I’ll have conversations with people, and have to be reminded of them two weeks later – not because my memory is suddenly bad (I’m a hypochondriac, so I DID actually seriously consider the possibility that I was losing my mind…), but because I’m rarely paying 100% attention: my mind is always at least partly occupied by thoughts of what I’m going to blog about next, what I need to DO next, and whoa, is that a dirty mark on the floor? Because I’m going to have to clean that up before I do anything… wait: is that another one?
It’s pretty silly, really, mostly because it’s so un-necessary. I started blogging full-time because I wanted to AVOID having the kind of lifestyle where I can’t sleep at night because my mind is constantly buzzing with lists of things to do – to the extent that I’m sometimes tempted to just get up in the middle of the night and make a start on them, purely to get my mind to shut the hell up for a while. And I don’t need to do it, either: I DO have the time to fit everything in, I just convince myself I don’t, because I feel guilty when I’m not working. I have some designated times every week when I allow myself to lie on the couch and watch TV for a few hours, guilt-free, but outside of those times, I just can’t let myself do it without feeling like I’m failing at something else in the process.
But relaxing isn’t failing, and taking a few hours to just exist, without planning it, documenting it, or even THINKING about it, isn’t necessarily unproductive, either, even although it can be hard not to feel like it is. Actually, I think it’s pretty essential, which is why I’m going to do my best to do it more often. Switching off the phone, forgetting about the emails, letting go of the guilt and accepting that it’s OK to read a book every once in a while. I mean, it’s not rocket science, but it’s so easy to get caught up in a stupid cycle of always being connected, and to convince yourself you have no time for anything else, when actually, YES, in fact, you do. Now put down that phone and go and do something else: I promise you won’t regret it.*
(*Unless the “something else” is reading Fifty Shades of Grey: then you’ll probably regret it.)
(*Also unless you were reading my blog on your phone. You should totally keep on doing that.)
(P.S. For anyone who’s interested, the book in question was The Girl in the Photograph by Kare Riordan, and it’s pretty awesome, in that “mysterious old house has a dark secret, what could it be?” kinda way. I actually have an entire folder on my Kindle called “Books About Mysterious Old Houses”, that’s how much I love ’em. They’re basically the Famous Five for grown-ups, and what’s not to love about THAT, I ask you? Exactly.)