How I Unplugged and Became More Focused

By Alyssa Gregory

While I was out of the office over the past few weeks, I had to be a little more creative than normal when it came time to checking in on work. Of course, I had my laptop and BlackBerry with me everywhere, but certain areas of the hospital had strict rules prohibiting electronic devices – like the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where we spent the majority of our time.

For a few days, I tried to shuffle between the NICU and the family lounge so I could plug in and check on work when the baby was sleeping. That was completely exhausting.

By the time I lugged my stuff out to the lounge, booted up, checked my email and got back to where I was with work the last time I logged in, it was almost time to head back into the nursery. Talk about wasted time, lost productivity and added stress.  So I limited my work time to late nights after we left the hospital and early mornings before we started our day.

About halfway through our NICU experience, I decided I was going to go old school and try focusing solely on paper-based work. I thought if I had work I could tackle when I was in the nursery, I would be able to cut down on the back and forth time and really maximize my time with my son, which was my biggest priority.

So, I took some time to write down a list of action items the old fashioned way – with pen and paper. I filled a couple of sheets in my notebook with notes on my to-do’s, ideas and other items that I had been struggling to find time to think through. And off I went to spend the day at the hospital.

Surprisingly, this worked. Not only did I feel more present when I was with my son, but there was a benefit I hadn’t even anticipated – I had an “out” and a way to tune out the craziness around me while the baby was sleeping or with a specialist.  I was more relaxed and a lot less stressed because I was where I needed to be, but still able to be somewhat productive.

Of course, it wasn’t like working in full capacity, but that was fine since I hadn’t planned on doing that anyway. And I still had a lot of emails to wade through at night. But overall, being unplugged gave me a new and more flexible way to focus on the one or two top items I outlined each day.

If I ever need to go analog again in the future, I will employ some of these tips which I learned by trial and error:

  • Don’t try to capture everything you need to do on paper. Instead focus on just a couple to-do’s that require mostly your thoughts, words and planning and are completely Internet-independent.
  • Pack lots of blank paper. I had forgotten how many false starts I typically have when I write (which was most of the work I focused on). It’s much easier to delete and start over on your computer, but I needed extra paper to make it work at the hospital.
  • Plan recap time at the end of each day. I’m a messy note-taker, so I tried to take time every night to review what I did during the day and transfer it to my computer where my “real” work was. This helped me gauge what I was getting done and effectively plan my work for the next day.

Overall, it was a learning experience for me, and one that not only helped me capitalize on the patience I was being forced to develop from a personal perspective, but also taught me that unplugging really isn’t as scary as it seems. I might even say it was somewhat pleasant!

Image credit: Ale_Paiva

  • dcunited

    Congrats on your new little one. NICU stays are stressful but, for me, having something else to work on helped move the time along.

  • Jonathan

    Would like to see more headings to breakup the content on site point articles for all posts to make it easier to scan read the content.

    Just a thought.

  • sparkwebdev

    My age places me right on the brink of the generation divide between those who grew up around computers and those who didn’t. I learned a lot of things old school first, working on a drafting board for many years doing graphics and mechanical design. I still keep a notebook on my desk for logging work and ideas, and on occasion take it to a location away from the computer and put my feet up and relax and flip through it and make more notes to ponder the big picture in a way you can lose at the computer where there’s always another link vying for your immediate attention.

    We forget how useful such tools can be when used in the right way and for the right things. Let’s not forget, Einstein didn’t use a microprocessor, and the rest of the world is still catching up to him.



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