the importance of unplugging

The Importance of Unplugging

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.

the importance of unplugging

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.)

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  • Moira


    Lovely post. I made a trip to the library with my son this morning for the first time in about five years, and am planning a screen free night tonight…

    July 28, 2015
  • Ah, I’m really glad you’ve written about this. I’ve been trying to get myself to switch off and just spend a day reading for ages but it feels like I’m addicted to my phone, and any attempt I make to read for more than 5 minutes without checking my phone is proving useless. The only time I’ve managed to do it is when I go on holiday and I have no internet and it feels like bliss, I think it’s important as well to be able to find time to switch off at home once in a while.

    Great post and as usual, I love your writing!

    July 28, 2015
  • I downloaded a book onto my Kindle app this weekend too. But because my Kindle is an iPad app, it means it’s too easy to get distracted. The book I’m reading is Bill Bryson’s Neither Here Nor There which is a really good book, but because it’s on my iPad it’s all too easy to keep looking up the places he mentions on Google maps. Partly as I’m curious about them, partly to see whether they’ve changed since the book was written (probably going on for 25-30 years ago now – which I keep having to remind myself when he complains about the lack of road signs and I think ‘why don’t you just use sat nav – oh’) and partly because I am easily distracted.

    July 28, 2015
  • Just loved reading your teaser on FB and had to stop by to comment:) Just got back from vacation where there was time to step back and reflect. You are so right because unplugging has got something to do with setting limits: unplugging the laptop and your thoughts. I have been doing yoga for a real long time and still struggle with staying calm. But I feel its the effort that counts….xo Sabina | Oceanblue Style

    July 28, 2015
  • TinaD


    There is a beach campground near me with bungalows and no wi-fi, and I keep thinking I’ll go away for a couple of days and get away from the various idiot boxes, but i never seem to plan far enough ahead for weekend reservations. I started Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell the other day (5 years after everybody else) and really liked it–a first in a long while? 50 Shades is awful, isn’t it? Like being trapped in a 13 year old’s inner monologue.

    July 28, 2015
  • Well said! That guilt is what always gets to me when I do something for myself like read a book. I can’t help but feel horribly selfish leaving things undone or not started. And, yes, those iPhones etc. can be very hard to put down. We all need a break though. This post is a great reminder.

    July 28, 2015
  • I completely agree. I tend to make Sunday’s my no phone day!
    TrudyJohanna UK Lifestyle Blog

    July 28, 2015
  • I try to make time to read every day for all of the reasons you talked about! Relaxing is not failing, just like you said. It’s a responsible method of keeping the brain refreshed to avoid inevitably going bonkers at something stupid because we’re too tightly wound. I try to unplug several times a month, usually on a Sunday, in order to reground myself. I always feel so much more refreshed the Monday after, too.

    However, I’ll never read 50 Shades of Grey. Yikes.

    July 28, 2015
  • Liz in Paris


    This is totally me, especially the guilt part. Even on holiday I take a laptop and a WiFi dongle thing for emergency internet coverage just in case. I’m a freelancer too (not a blogger) and I do sometimes wonder how healthy the always-on life is. It’s not just the phone either – it’s all the “idiot boxes” as TinaD says above! Great phrase!
    Off topic: that light blue colour really suits you! Even better than green!

    July 28, 2015
  • I was just thinking the other day how long it’s been since I sat down to read a real book. A few years ago I’d expect to devour several books a week, yet somehow even though I still spend a great deal of time reading (the internet certainly isn’t wanting for content after all) I hardly ever sit down and commit to something substantial.
    It was only reading your post that I realised that it’s because I always feel like I “should” be doing something else, even though often that something isn’t actually productive or rewarding.
    I think a fresh pot of coffee and some quality time with my to-read shelf is in order.

    July 29, 2015
  • Chiarina


    I don’t know how it is that when some other bloggers (luckily not all!!!) try to give advice they sound condescending and like they are better and smarter than their readers, but from you, Amber, advice comes in such a humble, honest, sweet way it always sounds absolutely reasonable and I just want to follow it… (I bought a make-up sponge, by the way, the first one of my life. And I love it!)

    July 29, 2015
  • Darlene


    Good reminder! It’s Sunday mornings for me. I’m an early riser, 6am, to I read till the church bells start ringing, around 10am. Then start the day! I also try to read every day, even if it’s only 20 min – it’s my caffeine fix.
    If you like ‘mystery house’ books. Try A Paris Apartment by Michele Gable. Love art, history and Paris? This has it all. It’s a fictional account of the apartment found after 70 years of being closed up. An antiques expert is asked to appraise the contents and discovers the original owners diaries and discovers the mystery behind the apartment. Enjoy!

    August 1, 2015
  • Over the last few weeks I have undergone a few big changes in my life and cutting back on technology is one of them, as well as switching off the television and not listening to the news or advertising. It’s all just depressing any way! This change has been reflected in my blog where I have also decided to step back in time and embrace a vintage life. Loving the 40s and 50s right now!

    August 2, 2015
  • I love reading and took out a library card earlier this year even though my Kindle has 50+ books on it… Hmmm.

    Anyway with being back at work now and the kids plus all the running and trying to keep my house tidy, neat, people in clean clothes etc I get SO LITTLE time to myself that I’ve started taking myself off for an hour once the kids are in bed, dishwasher loaded etc. Even if it’s an hour before bed I just need that time to myself to read and unwind.

    You’d think after nearly 4 years of being a mother I’d be used to the time-suck but nope!

    August 5, 2015