Connectivity addiction: taking a weekly day of rest

July 23, 2012

in hot topics

Apparently I upstaged my Alaska photos in last week’s “Digital Detox” post by mentioning off-handledly that I had started taking a 24 hour day of rest. There were a lot of great comments on that and questions about how I work it out from a practical stand point, so I thought I would share more.

Obviously this is not an idea I came up with myself. But the whole day of rest concept became a reality for me because I was feeling like I worked too much and was spending too much time on the computer. (Subtle and no-so-subtle hints dropped by my husband may have also factored into the equation.) Friday would roll around and my Facebook feed would fill up with TGIF messages, yet I was just settling in for an evening of more writing and internet stuff, followed by two more days of the same. When you work for yourself, there are really no boundaries and work can easily become all-consuming, especially if you genuinely love what you do. For me, everyday was a work day, and if I wasn’t working, I felt like I should be. I never truly rested because I felt guilty and non-productive.

I almost always have Fridays off from my work in schools, and if I AM in a school, I’m never there past 1 pm because I do instructional coaching in Jewish schools. The Jewish calendar starts each day at sundown, rather than from midnight like our calendar, so Jews who observe the Sabbath do so from Friday at sundown until Saturday at sundown, and the Jewish schools close early on Fridays in order for preparations to be made. Sabbath observance is a very big deal to Orthodox Jews, and something most look forward to all week. It’s a time to relax, rest, have good meals with friends and family, spend time learning about God, and take a break from everything worldly (TV, the internet, etc.)

Not only do I really like this concept, but I also like the time frame. Christians have traditionally observed Sunday as the Sabbath (simply because that’s the day Jesus was resurrected, not because of any biblical command). But that’s fallen out of fashion in the last few decades to the point where Sunday is pretty much a normal day for most of us, only differing from Saturday in that there’s an hour thrown in for church. Plus, Sundays have never felt all that restful to me because I spend much of it getting things ready for the upcoming week.

Friday night, though, it’s much easier to forget about everything work related, so the idea of starting a day of rest Friday night really appealed to me. This way, even though I work a lot on the weekends, I would still have something to look forward to at the start of the weekend, and a sense of closure after the official work week was done. Also, it’s rare that anyone truly needs something from me on a Friday night or Saturday morning (certainly no one from my schools tries to contact me since they’re not using the internet at that time), and if someone does send an email with a request, they don’t expect me to get back to them immediately, so I feel okay not being available.

On my day of rest, I don’t even THINK about work, or writing, or blogging. I don’t plan for travel, study my calendar, make to-do lists, run boring errands, clean, cook, or do anything else that reminds me of my daily tasks. It works like this most of the time: I spend Friday afternoons returning email and doing any last minute stuff online, then I clean the house. (Who can rest in a dirty house?) Afterward I make dinner: something with lots of leftovers that will be delicious when I reheat it the following day for lunch.

Just before sunset, I take a long, relaxing bath, or at least a quick shower. This is when the process of unwinding from the week begins for me. I think about all the great things I’ve accomplished (no matter how small) and thank God for all the ways He has blessed me throughout the week, and then let all the thoughts and worries about the week just wash down the drain. Maybe that sounds corny, but it’s very meaningful to me, and that’s what I do. Afterward, I light a candle and say a prayer, and my “Sabbath” officially begins. I eat dinner and have a glass of wine, preferably without the TV or any sort of distraction. If my husband is home (and he usually isn’t at that time), he joins me, but I’m perfectly content to have the time alone to relax and reflect.

I spend the rest of the evening reading, usually, or I’ll watch old black-and-white movies with my husband. If I’m alone, I’ll catch up on episodes of Mad Men or Downton Abbey or some other show that takes me out of my present world. On Saturday morning, I sleep in and take my time getting out of bed–the only morning each week I do this. When I do finally get up, I usually make coffee and read the Bible out in the garden (we are fortunate to have a quiet, peaceful outdoor space.) Then I’ll heat up leftovers or go out to eat lunch with my husband or friends and walk around the city afterward, just hanging out.

I usually end my Sabbath with a quick prayer thanking God for the time of rest and asking Him to equip me to handle everything He has planned for the week. I’m not very legalistic with the timing on this: sometimes if I have a lot to do, I’ll end my day of rest around 4 or 5 pm. Other times, I continue to rest until Sunday morning. I try to give the multi-tasking a rest for as long as possible, because I’m as addicted to that as to the connectivity itself. Doing one thing at a time is boring for me, and I’ve trained myself to always be concentrating on at least 2 (preferably 3 or 4) things at a time, all the time. I’m hoping that cutting back on  multi-tasking during the weekends will pave the way for me to slow down more during the week, too.

In terms of tech use, I do usually check my email at least once during the 24 hour period simply because I find it easier to relax when I know there is no emergency waiting in my inbox, but I just scan over the messages and don’t respond to any until Saturday night (at the earliest). I’ll read on the iPad, but won’t get out the laptop at all, which means no typing or content production at all. And I make a conscious decision not to use my phone out of boredom or just because it’s there: when the choice is between scrolling through Facebook and just sitting still, I choose sitting still. I’m hoping that over time, this habit will carry over into the rest of the week more and more…and so far, it has, in a big way.

I hope this doesn’t sound like my life is just oh-so-busy and stressful that I will pass out from exhaustion if I don’t take a day of rest. This isn’t a poor-me post. I know that my life is pretty easy and simple compared to a lot of people, and I am grateful for that. I also know that my day of rest will be less, well, restful, once we have kids. But the principle behind all of this will always hold true, no matter what stage of life I’m in. I know for certain that it’s still possible to take a day of rest each week because every Orthodox Jewish woman I know (including the ones with multiple children) still observe Shabbat and follow far more stringent rules about what can and can’t be done than I do. So I’m setting the precedent now that no matter how busy I am–this week, or ten years from now–I will still choose to have 24 hours of rest each week. It’s a priority in my life and I’m sticking to it.

My husband, by the way, does not observe a day of rest, mostly because he doesn’t need to. He understands intuitively something I struggle to remind myself: that life cannot be lived on a computer and a regular time of rest is essential. When he feels tired or stressed out, he simply says, “I’m not doing anything else for the rest of the afternoon” and he doesn’t. It’s that simple for him. No guilt, no restlessness. Because he knows I don’t work that way, he is THRILLED that I am now shutting down the computer for 24 hours each week, and supports me 100% in taking a sabbath because he knows how much I need it. On Fridays and Saturdays, he doesn’t remind me about anything on our to-do lists, or talk about anything stressful. So in that sense, it’s still a break for both of us, because we simply enjoy each other’s company instead of trying to get things done.

I know I’m not alone in needing time away from work and connectivity (which are almost one and the same for me.) I just read a Newsweek article called iCrazy: Panic. Deppression. Psychosis. How Connection Addiction is Rewiring Our Brains (which you can read a version of courtesy of The Daily Beast.) In a survey of 750 people, “… most respondents, with the exception of those over the age of 50, check text messages, email or their social network ‘all the time’ or ‘every 15 minutes’.” More results from the study:

Perhaps not that surprising: those who want the most time online feel compelled to get it. But in fact these users don’t exactly want to be so connected. It’s not quite free choice that drives most young corporate employees (45 and under) to keep their BlackBerrys in the bedroom within arms’ reach, per a 2011 study; or free choice, per another 2011 study, that makes 80 percent of vacationers bring along laptops or smartphones so they can check in with work while away; or free choice that leads smartphone users to check their phones before bed, in the middle of the night, if they stir, and within minutes of waking up.

We may appear to be choosing to use this technology, but in fact we are being dragged to it by the potential of short-term rewards. Every ping could be social, sexual, or professional opportunity, and we get a mini-reward, a squirt of dopamine, for answering the bell. “These rewards serve as jolts of energy that recharge the compulsion engine, much like the frisson a gambler receives as a new card hits the table,” MIT media scholar Judith Donath recently told Scientific American. “Cumulatively, the effect is potent and hard to resist.”

… And don’t kid yourself: the gap between an “Internet addict” and John Q. Public is thin to nonexistent. One of the early flags for addiction was spending more than 38 hours a week online. By that definition, we are all addicts now, many of us by Wednesday afternoon, Tuesday if it’s a busy week.

The article ends without offering a concrete solution, but hinting that each of us needs to seek out our own. The final sentences read: “And all of us, since the relationship with the Internet began, have tended to accept it as is, without much conscious thought about how we want it to be or what we want to avoid. Those days of complacency should end. The Internet is still ours to shape. Our minds are in the balance.” For me, taking one day of rest on a weekly basis and resisting the urge to check my phone constantly throughout the week is a big step toward thinking more consciously about how I work, connect with others, multi-task, and use my time.

I’m really curious about how others handle these issues. Do you struggle with “connectivity addiction”? How do you separate work/teaching from your personal life? When (and how) do you allow yourself to rest? 

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Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Subscribe via email for blog updates, exclusive tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Elisa Waingort July 23, 2012 at 10:47 am

Thanks for writing this post, Angela. As I commented previously on another of your posts, I struggle with this issue all the time. I am especially aware of this as my 7-year-old son is constantly connected. Some of it is good – very creative and with high level thinking involved. But, some of it is not adding anything to his growth, especially at this sensitive time in his development. I am going to adapt your idea without guilt if things don’t work out as planned! Maybe I can then encourage the rest of my family to follow suit! Regards!

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2 Angela Watson July 25, 2012 at 9:51 am

You’re welcome, Elisa! I think about this a lot in terms of how we influence kids with our connectivity addiction. Some tech experts recommend having kids text their teachers questions during class discussions or participate in backchannel discussions, etc. It’s a cool idea, and I like doing those things myself when I’m at conferences, but then again, I’m a connectivity addict. Do I want to foster that same behavior in students? Or do I want to teach them to be able to focus on one thing at a time without needing constant interaction, connectivity, and multi-tasking stimulation? I haven’t come to any conclusions yet, but I’m thinking more about more about how 21st century education “best practices” relate to connection and internet addiction.

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3 Elisa Waingort July 25, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Which begs the question how connected do we need to be in order to live a full and rich life, both personally and professionally? Heady question, I think but one worth pursuing.

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4 Shibahn Landry July 24, 2012 at 12:53 am

I’m definitely struggling with this myself. Especially since I’m new the to blogging world and have seen how easily I can fall behind in keeping up with everything. But, like you, I’m finding that Friday nights to Sunday mornings are easy to just let things go for a bit. I do have a child, a 3 year old daughter, and I know time with her at this age is precious. I’m working to be conscious with that. Thanks for this great post! I’ll probably be referring back to it every now and then to remind me of what it takes to stay centered and focused on what’s important. :)

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5 Angela Watson July 25, 2012 at 9:52 am

Hi, Shibahn! That’s wonderful that you are trying to dedicate more of your weekends to your daughter. I can’t think of a better way to spend your time–and yet I know the pull of the distractions that are around you. It’s great that you want to set good priorities now, as soon she will be imitating those priorities herself. :-)

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6 jan stong July 24, 2012 at 8:08 pm

I wrestle with this all of the time! Each school year I try to set up a plan in my head and I vow that I will stick by it and know when “enough is enough” and put the schoolwork and all the thoughts that go with it aside. After reading your blog and your book, I am once again identifying when I will observe Sabbath. I have decided that this school year I will quit at sundown on Saturday until sundown on Sunday. I will worship on Sunday and then try to physically rest or at least mentally rest by perhaps reading for pleasure. This is going to be hard, but having time this summer to rest, I realize how little I honor the need to balance work and rest throughout the school year!
I am glad that I am not alone in this!

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7 Angela Watson July 25, 2012 at 9:55 am

Hi, Jan! It’s good to hear from other people who are are dealing with this, isn’t it? Thank you for sharing. I am excited that you, too, are embarking on a Sabbath journey, and I think the timeframe you chose is great, since you go to church on Sunday. (My church has multiple service times during the weekend and I often go on Saturday night, so it’s the last thing I do on my Sabbath.) Let me know how it goes! :-)

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8 Karen July 27, 2012 at 7:38 am

Thanks for this post. It’s a timely reminder. Although I’ve still got a month of “summer” vacation left, I’m already conscious of the need to factor in more “me” time this year. The last couple of years I’ve tried to have a “Sabbath” but it’s not always easy. When I’m leading worship on Sunday it’s even more challenging to try and get the week’s planning (and grading) done as well as having some down time. It’s good to know others struggle with this, and your post reminds me again of something God has been trying to teach me ever since I started teaching! Thanks.

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9 Angela Watson July 27, 2012 at 5:02 pm

You’re welcome, Karen! Thanks for sharing your story. I choose to see this as the same principle as tithing: if you give God 10% of your money, He will do more with the remaining 90% than if you kept it all for yourself. If you set aside 1/7 of your time, He will bless the remaining 6 days so that you can accomplish more than if you chose to work all 7 days. It is a leap of faith at first, but I have really reaped the rewards in both cases. :-)

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10 Anne Tonkin October 28, 2012 at 5:29 am

Hi Angela,
I realise it’s quite some time since you posted your thoughts, but I thought I would comment anyhow. I ‘m not Jewish, but I have been keeping the Sabbath rest from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset for about 34 years now. It has always been a great blessing to me, not only in terms of rest from a busy teaching job, but as a beautiful way of giving my Creator more focused attention and remembering His great act of creation.
I highly recommend it to everyone. I’m sure it pleases our Saviour also. After all, He thought it important enough to include it in His Ten Commandments because He loves to see us blessed.

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11 Angela Watson October 29, 2012 at 9:21 am

Hi, Anne! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It’s great to hear from someone with so much experience with his. I’d love to know more about how you fill your time (and the type of activities you don’t engage in) during your Sabbath, if you’re willing to share.

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