Get Off the Grid and Get Things Done

In this day and age, there is probably no moment when youâ??re not connected to some network, available for talking at a momentâ??s notice. Whether itâ??s by instant messaging or SMS, or even the good olâ?? telephone (never mind email, for that can be set aside for later reading or replying–if at all–but can still be a distraction if you allow it), people would have a hundred and one ways to get in touch with you. It is quite ironic that the very tools we have invented to make communication more efficient can become the very bane of our productive and creative existenceâ??they can be utterly counterproductive if overused and abused, and if we allow them to invade every aspect of our lives.

The leash

True, any instantaneous means of communication, coupled with presence indicators (read: instant messaging) can be very useful in a business setting, especially where coordination among colleagues is important. This is prevalent in todayâ??s mobile-working and telecommuting set-ups. Oftentimes the boss or some team member would seem to have this unscratchable itch to go and ping someone. The results? Sometimes productive, sometimes not. Being in touch is good. But sometimes, being always within reach can be tantamount to being on a leash.

Withdrawal pains? Nah!

As I write this, I am stuck at a conference venue with no Internet connection whatsoever. Wireless signal is present, but itâ??s for use of the facilityâ??s staff only (unless I could successfully guess among four billion possible network I.P. addresses). Telephone lines? LAN outlets? Nada! My mobile phone? The cellsites must have forsaken me! In short, I am disconnected. Off the grid. Temporarily a non-entity in my virtual plane of existence. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. always-connected (well, almost) is, for a full day, disconnected.

So why am I still here, you ask? Why donâ??t I just ditch the joint and go for some café with good olâ?? WiFi? Well, in the first place I have to be here. I am on the job, contracted by a friend and client to produce some new media output (read: blogs and podcasts) for the event. So I thought Iâ??d better make the most of it. And as conferences go, and while the participants always offer their interesting views with impassioned speeches, I could not survive a day without firing up my brain cells, and thinking up something to write. And so during lull times, I read up on my favourite Web app e-books (by 37signals, no less) that I’ve saved locally to pick up some blog ideas. And lo and behold! I have one.

And Iâ??m typing it up right now. Itâ??s about disconnecting yourself from the rest of the world to actually try to do stuff.

Guilty as charged!

I myself have been, time and again, on the receiving end of some difficulties and distractions due to being connected, but I admit I have also often been the perpetrator many times (sorry guysâ??you know who you are). Time and again I would chat up some colleaguesâ??from all parts of the globeâ??and waste a couple of hours of their (and my) precious time. Okay, itâ??s not always useless stuff, for we do talk about important work-related matters, but the point is that concentration is often lost during these times. And concentration, while trying to do some creative stuff like writing articles, designing websites, building web apps, takes a long time to build up, and only a moment to bring down.

In short, the efficiency gains one can get out of instantaneous communication may be offset by the productivity losses.

Itâ??s like how a sand castle would crumble the moment water hits its base.

Itâ??s the programmerâ??s nemesis. Itâ??s the writerâ??s block.

Creative types and knowledge workers would usually need time alone to focus on the task at hand and get things done. And then after that, they can probably talk.

Off the grid

So whatâ??s a good way to accomplish something? Disconnect and stay offlineâ??at least for a while, that is. Sometimes you need to contain yourself in your own, personal bubble. Sometimes you just need to take a break and let life happen, so you can build up the creativity juices (and concentration) once more. And when youâ??ve gotten into the flow, you can get to do your magic!

Iâ??m offline, and I feel like a hermit in his cave up some mountain, disconnected from the rest of the world. I wouldn’t normally like this feeling but right now, Iâ??m enjoying it!

(Images from http://flickr.com/photos/serafa and http://flickr.com/photos/isphoto)

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