Switching Off

I’m currently reading The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris, and amidst the mixed reviews I’ve received, I’ve been enjoying it and found this gem while I was skim-reading last Saturday:

An abundance of information has created a poverty of attention

Now being a marketeer I love ideas that spread, so a saying that rhymes like this is right up my street. But I also find it overwhelmingly true. In my rant last month on the commoditisation of content, I made the ascertion that we are drowning in content. Tim says it far more beautifully, and reveals the consequence of our high level of media consumption: attention poverty.

So let me get down and get real. I wake up at 6am every morning and, as you know, pray and read my bible. But recently at 6am, I wake up and I’m thinking ‘blog’. I actually have a rule for no work between the hours of 11pm and 7am which I call the ‘eleven-to-seven’ rule – but last month I have all too often worked during those hours. When I’ve picked up a book to read, or fancied going for a calming walk, I’ve ended up flipping open the laptop and going through my to-do list.

In short, I’ve found that I’ve been unable to switch off. And it’s because I have so much information during the day, my mind is buzzing when I want to rest.

The whole point of me blogging is to sharpen my thoughts by using them to help others, and I know that you learn just as much (if not more) from the scars as you do from the successes. In exchange for my vulnerability, and the jabs and pokes I’ll get for my honesty, I’m asking a favor from all of you who read this – whether by RSS, as a note on Facebook, by email, or if you’ve stumbled here by mistake…. I want you to leave a comment and share with me how you switch off.

So if you’re not on my actual website, then click here, and let’s talk about this!


11 responses to “Switching Off”

  1. Trisha Stewart says:

    Switching off is the most difficult thing to do for me. I, like you, spend far too much time on working out a to do list, making rules for myself, putting things into order. Is is not best to just plough through the workload ? Having a dog and horse riding is my switch off. It has to be done, the dog demands two walks per day, more if he could get it, I ride a couple of times a week, train a couple of times per week, more if I can and gardening when it is not raining. Those are supposed to be my switch off’s but even then it is difficult. Giving into what makes you happy at least once a day is good.

    • Scott Gould says:

      Thank you Trisha for the quick comment. So you ‘hack’ your way to rest by implementing forced switching off and downtime. Very good.
      The point you make of “giving into what makes you happy” is also good, because when you have no time for what makes you happy, you know you’re not necessarily overworking, but definitely over-obsessed and over-informed!

  2. Tobit Emmens says:

    family certainly makes for an enforced switch off! Other than that running 3 or 4 times a week for 30-40 minutes is a great time of prayer and escape.

    Have you read Shane Hipps’ book the Hidden Power of Electronic Cutlure – how the media shapes faith, the gospel and church? – you might enjoy it, I did! Another book I found helpful in understanding living in a media rich world is Mark Sayers, The Trouble with Paris. This too has helped me to find a discipline where I try to have at least an hour of clear-space (by this I mean after I have switched off the macbook) before I go to bed.

  3. Robin Dickinson says:

    Hey Scott. Excellent topic, and thanks for your openess and honesty.

    Switching off is a fascinating topic – here are my thoughts:

    It’s about BEING vs DOING. The more your DOING (your daily actions and behaviours) aligns with your BEING (who you are – your inner self), the less the need to ‘switch off’, as you put it.

    When you are truly on-purpose; when who you are matches what you do; then there is no switching off. It wouldn’t make sense e.g. an artist who expresses their creativity doesn’t need to switch off from expressing their creativity. It just flows out of them 24-7. Sure, you still need to eat, sleep etc – but you are who you are – like a flower. It just keeps BEING a flower.

    The more the need to ‘switch off’, the further one’s daily actions and behaviours may have strayed from expression of one’s core purpose.

    Imagine asking you to switch off from being Scott. That would only make sense if you spent the majority of your time not being Scott – not being who you were created to BE. And this, I would venture to suggest, is the cause of much of this necessity to switch. People living inauthentic lives. Not being the person who the 5 year old always dreamt of becoming. Compromising, in fear.

    Longwinded, and somewhat idealistic (perhaps) – sorry. Just wanted to throw in a different angle to stimulate discussion.

    Best, Robin

  4. Hi Scott

    For me, it’s about giving value to the other bits of your life i.e. work is important, but so is rest/relaxation, children, spouse/partner, spirituality, personal relationships, not to mention keeping on top of the 1001 things that keep food on the table and a pleasant environment to live in.

    So switching off has to do with giving as much value to the other aspects of your life as to your work.

    Without that switching off time, life can become too stressful and relationships, and health, can suffer.

    As a Personal and Professional Coach, I constantly see clients who realise they have the balance in their life all wrong and want to make some changes – unfortunately sometimes after a wake-up call such as a health scare or a marriage break-down. Helping someone acknowledge the different, fabulous elements of their life and giving them each real value, along with often teaching a good relaxation techqniue, can help move someone from stress and an inability to switch off to a position of calm and fulfilment.

    Hope that’s a help!


  5. Scott – I’m trying to do exactly what you’re doing – except that I’m no good at switching off at all. I wish I had the discipline to wake up at 6am to read the Bible and spend time in prayer. I’ve had to set aside time in the weekends, which is usually chunks of hours, because if I start to schedule things too hard, I fear I might lose the serendipitous qualities of social browsing on the web. Unfortunately for me, my work is tied to technology, so it’s hard to break out of that habit. I feel I’m a lost cause, but I’m reading a book called The Now Habit that’s helping me understand why I procrastinate so much and how I can deal with it healthily.

  6. Sherri Vance says:

    I find it extremely difficult to “switch off,” if that means shutting down the constant buzz of information going into my head. That’s almost like a kind of drug. And I find that as I skim tweets, it does give me “attention poverty”…quickly scanning rather than really reading, not to even mention digesting. Yet habits like prayer and Bible study are very hard for me–sometimes I think I’ll do almost anything to avoid them. I think it’s because scanning tweets on the computer and being vulnerable and centered toward God are so immensely different, and the second requires so much more of me than the first. Twitter is brain candy–heavy on the sugar, and it hops up my mind just like candy does.
    The only way I switch off at this point is walking my little dog…she has to be walked twice a day, and I’m alone with her and with nature as we walk the neighborhood. I’m glad she’s so insistent on getting her exercise.

  7. Craig Rickard says:

    Nice entry Scott and very true. The problem with not truly switching off is that when you finally get that moment where you do rest it comes as such a relief that sometimes finding the energy to get motivated again can take a lot longer than expected and it can harm your work for the next few days. I used to be an advocate of a bottle of wine or a night out with friends but in all honesty as I hurtle willy-nilly towards my 26th year I find a large, cold glass of skimmed milk and a few chapters of a lightweight novel are the perfect way to unwind after a long day. Whatever I do I try and makes sure it doesn’t involve my laptop, as that’s where all my work is!

  8. jonathanalder says:

    Hi Scott

    I just wanted to give you a pointer to presentation that Tim Ferris gave at the Do Lectures last year. I didn’t know anything about him until I came across him on the Do site. Fascinating stuff, take a look: http://www.dolectures.co.uk/speakers/archive/20

    But I then read the rest of your blog and thought it would be rude to leave without adding a contribution! I really struggle to switch off. Like you, I really enjoy what I do, so I like doing it. Given different economic circumstances I think I’d find it easier to take some time out, but for the time being it’s just about keeping your head down and working towards your objective.

    But having a little boy – William – who will be 2 in less than 2 weeks does give me a very good outlet for switching off! 6.30pm is bathtime, so work stops then (it usually starts again about 3 hours later). And it makes a big difference to weekends too. I’ll do some work in the evenings at weekends, but during the day Charlie (my wife) and I spend our time with William as a family.

    Exercise (running) is a good outlet – but that’s too easy for me to skip. I’ve just got back into running after a couple of months off. During the week along the canal, at weekends on Haldon. A great change of scene and good time o focus my mind else where.

    Now, I’m 15 minutes past the time I was going to ‘switch-off’ tonight, so I better go. Good night.

  9. Sam Bull says:

    I have just been trying to think about how to add to this discussion and I cant think of any better way of saying it than has already been said by Elizabeth Juff – It is about giving value to other aspects of your life.

    Even if you completely enjoy the work aspect of your life and struggle to stop working because you enjoy it so much, you must recognize the value of the other aspects: bible study, time to think and reflect, time to have fun – these things can so easily be neglected because in our society work is valued so highly. The busier you are the more important you are right?

    I prefer to live my life by design and not default; to decide in advance exactly what I am going to spend my time doing based on the value I give each aspect of my life. Of course this takes discipline and sometimes we slip and let things take more of our time than they ought. I have decided make a habit of regularly ‘taking stock’ of everything I am doing. This helps me stay focussed and reminds me of the value that each aspect of my life has.

    Im guessing, Scott, that it was ‘taking stock’, consciously or subconsciously that led you to the conclusion that you are not spending enough time ‘switching off’ and hopefully you are already re-focussing and adjusting your schedule accordingly.

    Good luck living by design and not default!!!


  10. JamieLee says:

    Enjoyed the post & all the great comments.
    As I’m in business start-up mode, I’m more or less possessed by my work these days, BUT there are three things that help me step back and breathe:
    1. My daughter
    2. My beau
    3. My morning yoga (which is a work-in-progress in terms of consistency, but I’m getting there!)

    Like others have already commented, I find that it’s the people in my life who help me gain the perspective I need to switch off – literally and figuratively. My daughter is 5 1/2 and absolutely does not deal well with partial attention. Multi-tasking in her presence is a horror show. And, that’s a good thing. She forces me to come away and focus on her. My beau – being more of an adult – makes a conscious effort to help me step back from the tornado of communications and information and into a place where I can really “be.” I’m very grateful for that.

    Thanks for the gentle reminder to keep working on creating a healthy balance.

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