An Offline Thought Experiment

Pretend that you were leaving for 11 days and that you are going to be completely offline. No ability to read e-mail, even if you wanted to read e-mail.

July 17, 2013

Pretend that you were leaving for 11 days and that you are going to be completely offline. No ability to read e-mail, even if you wanted to read e-mail. No ability to check-in by phone, even if you wanted to check-in by phone.  

What would life look like on the 12th day of your return?

A few hypotheses:

1.  You Will Be Missed Far Less Than You Imagined:

All of us over-estimate our own importance. We think that we are more important to the organization and to our team than we really are. We think that other people will not be able to step up to the work we are doing, and they always do.   

The cold hard facts are that every one of us is replaceable. None of us are as good at our jobs as we think. The world, and our places of employment, will keep going on without us. These facts may be depressing, but an extended period of being out-of-contact is a good reality check, and will hopefully serve to make us a bit more humble (and maybe stressed out) about our work and our careers.

2.  Your Team Will Be Sort of Happy That You Were Away:

This is only really true if you are in management. If you are one of those people that do more doing than talking then you will severely missed. Anyone on the front-lines, at the pointy-end of the spear, is greatly missed when they are away. The fact is that we are all trying to do more without adding more people, and the folks that do the most are those that get the real work done while the rest of us are at meetings.

But, if you are someone who is in charge of anything - then trust me - your team will be happy for a bit of a break from your presence. It is not that they don't like you, or appreciate what you do, it is just that sometimes they want to do their work without you sticking your nose in their business.  They know what they are doing, they are internally motivated by the work, and they will be glad for a few days when they can not worry about managing their managers.

3.   You Will Lose A Solid Day of Work Weeding Through E-Mails Upon Your Return:

How many e-mails will you have to weed through after 11 days of being offline? 500? 1000? More?

You will be shocked at how many e-mails that you are cc'd on. By how many e-mails that don't really seem that urgent when read 8 or 9 days after they were sent, but that you would have dropped everything to answer had you been online.  You will wonder how you ever get anything done if you get so many e-mails in a day. The sheer volume of marginally useful and still time consuming e-mails will make you wonder if we have created our own digital torture devices.  You will think about how you got yourself in a situation where you feel the need to constantly check your various screens and devices for new e-mail messages.   

You will vow to make some changes in your e-mail habits, but you will not follow through.  Quickly, you will revert back to your old e-mail habits, forgetting all the reasons why you vowed to make a change.

4.  You Will Tell Your Colleagues That They Should Also Go Dark For An Extended Time - They Will Not Listen:

Going offline for 11 days will change your perspective on work, collaboration, and communication.  You will think about what you and your team does differently, and have some ideas about how things can change.

When you tell everyone how wonderful it is to go offline for 11 days they nod politely.  But really they will think that you are nuts.   

The truth is that we work so much because our work is interesting.   

We stay in constant contact because constant contact is the new way that people work.

Going offline for an extended period of time is neither desirable or feasible.    You will try to convince your colleagues to give it a shot, and mostly you will fail.

To test these hypotheses I have decided to fly to an undisclosed location with my family.  A place where I will be totally off the grid (hint - the only country in the Western Hemisphere without a standing army).  

Looking forward to seeing all of you again on day 12 when the experiment comes to an end.



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