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How to Start Unplugging From a Plugged-in Job

sailboat.gifJim, one of my entrepreneurship students this summer, has led an extraordinary life.

Born in France, Jim sailed the world with his vagabond parents for fourteen years aboard a fifteen-meter aluminum schooner, all the while studying via correspondence course.

Jim’s sunny, open personality reflects a true worldview absorbed from growing up on the open sea-and in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, Senegal, and the United States. Along the way, he gained fluency in English, French, and Spanish. And his Japanese is pretty sharp, too.

Today he works as—what else?—a sailboat designer. I imagine Jim slicing through the waters of his career the way his family’s sleek silver schooner once cut through blue-green ocean waves en route to yet another unexplored destination. What a life!

Jim’s happy. Yet like many of us, he looks forward to the day when his career will allow him to “go off the grid” at will. You might call Jim and others like him seekers of career ‘unpluggability’ (is that a real word?).

But how to start?

The way to unplug, says Jim, is to unplug.unplugging.gif

Just as the key to getting things done is doing things, the key to unplugging is to unplug. A good place to start is with e-mail, the “killer app” that too often kills our ability to achieve. Go ahead: Not checking e-mail for a day won’t destroy your career. Neither will abandoning it for a week. In fact, people will probably be impressed that you’re involved in something more important than passing messages back and forth.

Maybe you have one of those jobs where everybody communicates by e-mail, despite sitting within shouting distance of each other. If so, consider reducing your mail-checking frequency. You could try a new policy with a signature like this:

In the interest of greater productivity, I’m checking and responding to e-mail messages just twice daily, at around 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. For urgent matters, please call me at ____________ (or poke your head outside the cubicle and shout).

The point is to train others (and maybe yourself) to honor the boundaries of a productive offline life.

If you want to go completely off the grid, consider applying techniques described in The 4-Hour Workweek. I’ve tried a few, including hiring India-based computer specialists through elance.com at $3 an hour (a decent wage in India but one that will make others think twice about basing careers on computer expertise).

For those committed to spending months or even years away, the issues around unplugging grow more challenging.

“The hard part is not unplugging but ‘replugging’ after a long time away from work,” says Jim. “To fully unplug and not worry about job issues when living away from it all, I need a skillset and a network of connections that will get me a satisfying job when I decide to re-plug myself, either by choice or by necessity.”

cascade_lake_2000.gifWhat you really need, I told Jim, is to start your own business.

But today’s topic is unplugging, and it’s time to practice what I preach. So I’m off to the island hideaway with the family for two solid weeks. No computers, no e-mail, no blogs, television, or cell phone. We’ll swim, hike, fish, agate-hunt, and play with the dog outdoors. We’ll plan nothing and savor everything. We’ll let the hours slip by as they will, let chance encounters stretch into an afternoon—or an entire day.

I hear the sun is shining off the grid, and the waters are clear.

You may also enjoy:

The Perils of the Internet

How to Stay Stressed

Happiness is Turning Off the Computer

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