Unplugging 101

Recently at our Self-Management for Actors Facebook group, I mentioned going more and more off the grid. I was quickly asked to elaborate, as it seems quite a few folks fantasize about being less attached to their gadgets. So, here it is.

In 2009, I stumbled across this post by Havi Brooks about going off email. I was inspired, intrigued, and absolutely certain that would never work for me.

My email address had been in the footer of my weekly column since 1999. There was no way I could “go dark” like that, as far as email was concerned. But every now and then I would go back and read Havi’s post, fantasize about not being pelted with emails all day, and maybe take one more step toward making my life a bit more like that.

Unplugging

Starting in 2011, I’d pass off more emails to my team to answer on my behalf, using lovingly-crafted templates that cover a huge chunk of the type of contact I receive in my inbox daily.

From there, I’d do more interaction in our SMFA Talkback forums and at the aforementioned Facebook group and on Twitter in an attempt to drive engagement to more public (though still vetted, so not *truly* public) places.

In 2014, I’d bring free SMFA Tune-Up calls into the picture so we could have quarterly jam sessions that serve hundreds at once rather than attempting my least favorite thing that I am asked (daily) to do: INBOX COACHING.

(An aside, here: It’s not that I *hate* inbox coaching — in fact, it’s the answering of many actor emails and message board posts in the earliest years of my columns that led to Self-Management for Actors in the first place, so I understand the value of such exchanges not just for the recipient, but for me as well — it’s that it’s incredibly inefficient. And now that I know there is NO question an actor has EVER asked that will not assist another actor in the witnessing of it being answered, I am particularly averse to inbox coaching. So much so that I simply WILL NOT do it. Period.)

(That boundary has been a tough one to create and maintain. It’s a muscle that I continue to strengthen.)

In 2015, I’d change my email address and set up an auto-responder to handle rerouting of the majority of the emails trying to get to me. I’d be so present in places elsewhere online that it would become clear that email was the *least* effective way to get in touch with me.

And then it happened…

None

On March 4th of 2016, I went swimming with my phone.

Let me clarify: While in our beloved Desert Hot Springs getaway, as I played the role of the hostess who drank the mostest, I decided to spend an hour soaking in a mineral springs hot tub with my iPhone tucked into the bra of my swimsuit the whole time.

Yeah.

I was that girl.

And it took days to recover any sort of technology — as we were out of town and it was a celebratory weekend for the hubs’ half-century and the priority was absolutely NOT replacing my gadget or finding a way to get access to anyone other than those who were gathered with us, eating, drinking, and laughing merrily.

Something happened over the course of those tech-free days.

I got very clear that it is not only possible to go days without knowing what’s happening in the world, it’s delicious.

No, I would not be able to catch up with every tweet, every Facebook group post, every photo at Instagram, every comment, every “like,” every text (mostly because those were lost forever) and I had to let the OCD perfectionist in me die a little because there was just no other option where “catching up” was concerned.

And everything was just fine. Anyone who needed to reach me reached out again. Anything I needed to see I ended up seeing. Absolutely no big deal.

So, here’s the a-ha moment I had while I was completely unreachable, on an acre of land in the high desert: Notifications are the devil.

I’m not talking about that notification you get when you’re closing Microsoft Word and haven’t saved your document recently — that’s a great notification and its purpose is pure. I’m talking about “someone liked your photo” and “someone retweeted your tweet” and “someone replied to your comment” and other such nonsense that most people have popping up on their gadgets aaaaallllllllllll the time.

Let’s think about the purpose of these notifications. It’s not to tell us anything important is happening; it’s to addict us to the app.

It’s to keep us checking in, checking back, staying plugged in… so they can keep selling us stuff while making us feel as though we’re connected with our community.

I’ll never forget reading about “the phone stack” years ago. You place your phones in the center of the table at dinner and the first person who reaches for his or her gadget during the meal picks up the check. Now, I’ve never had to participate in such a thing because I never have my phone out. I just don’t have a muscle for using it like most people do.

I didn’t set up my phone to be something anyone other than Keith could call or text until late 2012. It was a one-person-only-has-my-number device, and he could let me know if someone actually needed me vs. someone was certain they urgently needed me but was indeed mistaken. (It was almost always the latter.)

So, that certainly helped me never develop the muscle for addiction to notifications of *any* kind, really. But breaking free from that addiction is not all that tough. It just takes practice. And learning that the world doesn’t die just because you stop looking for its meaning in your phone? That helps.

Now I use the “do not disturb” function liberally. During meetings and while being present for all sorts of delicious in-person things in my life, I go onto DND mode. I also have set hours every night during which only my “favorites” can get through to me via phone or text. How many favorites do I have? Exactly two. My husband and my stepson.

Of course actors need to be reached by their agents and that means you can have more “favorites” than I do and still make this work. Be accessible to those folks all the time. Everyone else can wait an hour. Seriously. Even your very best friend. You’ll see her text *if* you happen to pick up your phone to check for something manually while you’re on “do not disturb.” You can decide then whether you need to get back to it right away or wait ’til you’re officially BACK from DND time.

Honestly, my phone stays on DND mode *most* of the time. I’m not a surgeon who is getting called in to help with a life-saving emergency. Everything can wait ’til I’m ready to check in with my gadget.

Here’s what I want you to try — if getting some of your techno-sanity back is a priority: Use DND every night from two hours before you usually go to bed ’til two hours after you usually get up. Those buffer hours are important. They let you deal with things like getting wound down for a restful night’s sleep and they let you set the intention for your day without starting from a place of REACTION to what you learn has happened while you’ve slept. Use those hours for journaling, yoga, meditation, eating a beautiful meal, going for a walk, creating something, moving a project forward, being present.

The next thing I want you to try is turning off notifications. I know. You thought I was going to ask you to uninstall Facebook and other such apps from your phone. Sure. That works too but it’s extreme and not terribly realistic for most folks. Let’s start with the step of just turning off notifications on everything other than your phone and texts, since that’s where folks may reach out to you for work or actual real-life stuff that matters.

Set specific hours that are your “do a lap” times for social media whether on your phone or your computer. Stick to that start *and stop* time! And when you worry you’re missing out by only giving yourself an hour a day (for example — you could actually manage far less time on social media per day but you may not want to at first) to check out these spaces, I want you to consider this: The more interest you have in what everyone else is doing, the more you tell the universe, “Everyone else is more interesting than I am. What I’ve got going on pales in comparison to what they’re doing.”

Ask yourself if you want to work toward what you want to be in the world or if you’d rather spend time looking at what others are SAYING they’re being in the world. (You do know that what they’re putting out there is only what they SAY they’re being. It’s spin, plain and simple. And you buy into it every time you let a notification pull you out of a creative writing sprint, stop you from getting submissions done, or interrupt your planning for creating a passive income side hustle job that frees you up more hours of the day once launched.)

Plug

Unplugging isn’t easy (I detailed my departure from Facebook in 2010 here — just page back to get to the beginning of the process) but it’s totally do-able. My life is no less splendid due to lack of a Facebook page for more than five years. Not joining Instagram ’til November of 2015 didn’t make the time before that less wonderful. Nor has my life had more meaning since I’ve joined. I just now am aware of more fan pics going up for my book. That’s nice.

And because I have a strong muscle for not giving a crap about what’s going on with others *so much* that I need to have my REAL LIFE interrupted to hear about it, I find great joy when I DO check in.

Think about that. I *enjoy* my laps through social media and my inbox — which only cycles through and checks email a few times a day, not every few minutes like most folks tend to set theirs up to do — because these laps are on my schedule. They fit into the full and gorgeous life I am living away from technology. They don’t run it.

Lemmeknow what you think if you try some of this! Or if you have other tips of your own to share! I’d love to know! πŸ™‚

Let’s use technology for the tool that it is rather than as the boss of us.

Unplug, babe. Doing so is good for us all!


Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

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14 Comments

  1. Lucy Russell March 14, 2016 at 6:39 am

    Oh Bonnie – I LOVE this!!! And, coincidentally, I did delete FB from my phone yesterday! I’ll be sharing this post far and wide.
    Glad you had a wonderful time and away, and Happy Birthday, Keith!
    Lucy
    x

    Reply
  2. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie March 14, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    Lucy, that’s amazing! Tell me how that goes for you! πŸ™‚ I only do Twitter and IG on my phone and neither has any sort of notifications set up (obviously). Hooray for no more FB on your phone! Welcome to the club!

    Thank you for your sweet b’day wishes for Keith. It was a wonderful (albeit crazy) weekend! All our love to you, sweetness! XO

    Reply
  3. KO March 15, 2016 at 2:01 am

    I love this, because as a super techie geek, I saw from the beginning the potential these little gadgets had to not only invade but control our lives.

    I have never had alerts on my phone other than the ringer being on. I don’t hate texting or email, I just know that if someone needs me immediately, they’re going to call.

    My friends all know not to expect a text back from me immediately, and that gives them permission to do the same – we all understand that we each have “real” lives.

    Same thing with agents and clients. They have too many other clients of their own to be bothered by my not responding within .0314 of a second.

    Once a week, my hubby and I practice “modern Shabbat” – 24 hours of ZERO phone/tv/internet/computer and – believe it or not – car. We still cook and use electricity. The idea is to RELAX. We read, go for walks, play with the pup, nap etc. When Saturday evening rolls around we feel truly recharged.

    I think we’ve forgotten as a society how to truly relax and take “me” time. We think we must be available to everyone else all the time. My truth is that I have to be available to myself for myself (and those super close to me) some of the time or I’ll end up being a bag of worthless, fizzled out bones all the time.

    Reply
  4. Dija March 15, 2016 at 5:02 am

    Bonnie, great post and happy birthday to Keith! I think recently I was getting overwhelmed by social media and trying to “not miss anything”. As if we could keep up with it ALL! Smh. I’ve recently reduced my social media interaction by scheduling posts and blogs so I don’t have to interact as much. I’ve deleted apps that I don’t use but send notifications from my phone. I’ve been checking everything a lot less frequently. The best thing I did was unsubscribe from a bunch of email newsletters that always seemed to be asking me to do something for the sender. I try to keep only inspiring accounts (like yours) around me. I’ve taken much more time to be quiet and do more self reflection. The pay back has been feeling more centered and aligned. That is something I really needed!

    Reply
  5. Steven Vega March 15, 2016 at 6:30 am

    Hi Bonnnie, I treasure your Bon blasts and all that you do for our creative community. I refuse to download the FB app for that very reason, I want to limit the amount of social media access. Once I somehow unknowingly activated FB notifications to my phone and it was pure insanity. I swear my phone was ringing every two to three minutes from FB notifications. It was driving me insane especially because turning it off wasn’t easy since I didn’t know how it got started in the 1st place. After all I went on FB turned notifications off and removed my cell #. After some google research I learned how it happened and how to turn it off. I’ve only done FB, Instagram and Twitter. I haven’t turned those notifications off as they are not so intrusive. On another note, its been 4 weeks since the posting of my last funny video as I wasn’t feeling inspired and had hit a deadlock for whatever reason. As a comic we always poke fun at whatever is big in the public arena. Right now its the presidential race. Last night I figured out how I want to poke fun at that and my video should be up either later tonight or the latest by tomorrow. As you know my online comedy channel is TheLaughingOutLoudTV.com
    Thanks for all that you do as it helps me to stay inspired and to keep my head in the game. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Self Management For Actors is one the best investments I’ve ever made for my career.

    Reply
  6. JorΓ© Aaron March 15, 2016 at 7:52 am

    Bonnie, thanks so much for this. I’ve recently downgraded to a flip phone (I know, very drastic) and separated my social media life from the very necessary device that is a cellphone nowadays by using an iPhone touch (that way, I can only use these apps when I have wi-fi or when I have my heavy laptop with me). Part of the problem for me was how convenient it was to get that self-gratifcation and several ads from these networking platforms. Now that I’ve created more obstacles for myself, I feel like I have more options on how to use my time (like reading an amazing blog post and working on my art).
    So thanks again, and for a young green 22 year old in this industry such as myself, you continue to be an incredible beacon of hope and community, so thanks for this post and all the other aid you have out there for us!

    Reply
  7. Ivette March 15, 2016 at 8:40 am

    Hi Bonnie!

    This is wonderful. I’ve deleted ALL those monster apps from my phone several times, only to install them again after a week because “oh you missed this event? It was all over Facebook!” Or, the present dilemma: I’m launching an online store for my side gig and how else will I market it if not on social media among my +600 “friends”?? *smh*

    But after reading this post I’m turning off/blocking all notifications, and using the DO NOT DISTURB feature, because for real, if I miss sthg it’s the Universe telling me there’s sthg better for me.

    Thank you, this post has been very encouraging and enlightening.
    Oh and a very Happy Birthday to Keith!
    Xoxo
    ~Ivette.

    Reply
  8. David Garry March 15, 2016 at 9:20 am

    Thank you for this… it’s coming at a time where I feel I really need to hear it. Sorry to hear about your phone, but way to make lemonade! I do believe we’re missing a lot of human interaction as time goes by and as social media becomes more powerful. And I know notably that I can be less productive because of it. When I wake up on the weekends, yawn and stretch, and then settle in for a good social media binge, I find I can go down a rabbit hole of links for at least a couple of hours when the temps outside are amazing, the sun is shining, and I’m not being active and actually social. I’m feeling a little bit more of a shift as of late too (for the worse), where the distraction is keeping me from getting the things I need to do done. I like the strategy of scheduled times. Otherwise, a complete social media detox is a setup for another fad diet. We like to stay plugged in to what’s happening, but like any other good addicts out there, maybe for now, limiting and ‘in moderation’ is the way to go… I’ve set Facebook up before where I get e-mails sent to my e-mail account if there’s an event (so I don’t miss an invite), and I’ve also just used the facebook messenger app before (essentially e-mails, as well), while not using the main app.

    Reply
  9. Michael Edwin March 15, 2016 at 10:24 am

    All good stuff, Bonnie. Of late, I’m also a huge fan of the unsubscribe link. In addition, I’m mulling over an experiment to create a DGF (don’t give a f**k) folder in email for a month, just to look at the percentages. I’m pretty sure I can guess the outcome of that one. Thanks for the thoughts!

    Reply
  10. Chloe Russell March 15, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    SO glad you’re talking about this. A huge issue for me. Tech is a great tool that can inspire and propel me, or conversely prevent me from actually taking steps to initiate or complete my creative work.
    If I am immersed in tech for weeks on end, I stop listening to the quiet whims of my heart. And that’s where a lot of the good stuff comes from – in my life and career.

    Reply
  11. Melissa Miles March 15, 2016 at 7:17 pm

    I had once this great experience with my acting group in Europe:
    One day without words! AAAAHHH!!! That’s crazy, right?! No talking, no reading or writing, no listening to music with lyrics.
    We all spend the day with a very long hike in the nature. That was amazing. Afterwards cooking and baking together- everybody did know by sudden what to without anybody telling them. We also had a meditation with stimulating instrumental music and danced in the evening. The whole day was a bonding to the nature and to the real human being – to the feeling in depth!
    Moral: We humans just talk too much unnecessary stuff. And it’s great to just enjoy the silence together.

    I like to go sometimes out into the nature without a phone/ book. Just me and a photo-camera or painting, or mediation music. Do some yoga, listen to the nature, FIND YOURSELF!

    Reply
  12. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie March 16, 2016 at 10:43 am

    A comment by Senta Burke from Facebook: March 15 at 12:05pm

    If anyone read Bonnie Gillespie’s email this morning about unplugging from technology. I happened to be taking a step back from Facebook this last week, and will continue to (productivity, article rabbit holes, negative stories, political arguments – it was making me a little blue). In addition to turning off notifications on a device, here are some things:
    * Move the app icon to your third screen (or your furthest wherever that is) so you don’t see the little red box telling you if you the number of interactions you have pending.
    * Log out on your computer (so you have to specifically log in to check in)
    * Instead of making a grand announcement (goodbye cruel facebook – try posting an image you want to leave as a demarcation for a break – something for your current mindset, and then have it sit on your wall and don’t re-post anything you happen to see when you log in. So you won’t feel you have to share and share and share.
    * Use your app on a device to open FB quickly, and see if you have any private messages, but don’t scroll down. If you have a message, log in or whatever and check it, then log out again. (There are some people I just talk to on here.)
    * When you log in, check out your favorite groups and the people you most want to check in on (I like to check in on my friends with babies to see their pics and videos), but don’t go through the newsfeed unless you are specifically looking to kill time.

    *** Ironic I got on to post this, eh? Now I will go off and not look at responses to it. It gets easier after a couple days ****

    Reply
  13. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie March 17, 2016 at 11:17 pm

    KO — Yeeeeesssssssss! In my new book, I have a chapter on all the brilliant things we can steal from religions that are not necessarily our own. This is one of them, for sure. There’s something so brilliant about that “me” time you speak of. Yes, yes, and more yes!!

    Dija — Thank you for your love to Keith. Yes! What is with that damn FOMO, right?!? I need to join you in the world of scheduling my social media. I know there are services out there that I could use to help me with some of the regular to-do’s but I still keep a mom-and-pop, hands-on approach to my communities and fanbase, so I’m not there just yet. Thank you for staying subscribed to my emails! Funny enough, THIS particular blast saw a *lot* of unsubs. I was happy! That meant they heard me and reduced some clutter! πŸ™‚ Yay!

    Steven — Rock on, man. And thank you for your kind words about the book! πŸ™‚ That makes me so happy to read!

    JorΓ© — You are inspiring me, my dear! WOW! A flip phone!! WOW! Drastic — and awesome — indeed. Thank you for sharing that and thank you for staying inspired and really enjoying the important parts of your journey. This is only the beginning, love! Cannot wait to see what’s next for you!

    Ivette — Yes! I saw photos from a holiday party that happened in my pole sisters community a few months back. I was not invited. Why? Because I do not have a Facebook friend page to which anyone can connect. I had ONE quick pang of, “Aww… I wish I had known! I would’ve been there!” but then I got over it. It’s NO big deal that I didn’t know about it and therefore didn’t go. There are a zillion opportunities to connect authentically with people in our lives. Social media should make it easier, but I think the downside to the hyper-connectivity is one worth considering when deciding to stay plugged in. Congrats on your choice! Lemmeknow how it goes!

    David — That rabbit hole is brutal sometimes, isn’t it? Yes, yes, YES… so important to appreciate what’s going on in that great big world out there (and not just because someone posted a great photo about it on Instagram). Love your analogy of a fad diet for this. I didn’t realize why my scheduled social media visits served me so well, but it’s exactly that! Because it’s not an “all or nothing” thing.

    Michael — Love the idea of a DGF folder. I’d love to hear about that after you’ve tried it. Are you aware of the https://unroll.me service? It’s free and I use it for the DGF emails I’m not ready to STOP getting but which I don’t feel the need to see AS they come in. I know, I know… I’m asking folks to choose to put ME into that system if I’m talking about it and that’s bad for my open rates or whatever but honestly I don’t mind. I like this engagement here, the replies this email blast created, and all the good stuff to come from our organic connections over loads of time!

    Chloe — You said it beautifully. We MUST stay connected to the space where our creative souls generate so much goodness to share with the world. When technology encroaches upon that, it’s gotta be put in check!

    Melissa — OMG, I *love* that idea of a day without words! WOW! That’s intense!! Yes to the showing up places without technology or even a book. I’ve sat quietly to myself in a restaurant and been asked multiple times what I might need (like something’s wrong if I’m not there with a person, a computer, a phone, or a book of some wort). I just take it all in, study human nature (my own and theirs), and later create something beautiful from what I’ve experienced FULLY. Yes, yes, yes!

    Senta — Thank you. Your advice is phenomenal, which is why I shared it here after you posted it in the Facebook group for the SMFA Ninjas. Really great tips and I’m so grateful to you for sharing! Let’s kick this habit and have more FUN with our online connections, always! <3

    Thank you, everyone! Y'all rock!

    Reply
  14. Millie Warren April 13, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    Hey, Bonnie, it’s Millie! Haha I’m actually reading your articles as I get my hair done. #maintanence πŸ˜‰

    Since going over our social media usage in GIGFTNT, I’ve been warming up to slowly and lovingly release my social media addiction. Really surprised at how easy it is to mindlessly scroll through IG. 20 minutes this morning!

    I’m working to become more mindful and productive with my social media use, this article helps a lot. Up next is reading your article on how you unplugged from FB.

    Think of all the time we can reclaim once we convern ourselves less with social media. I’d love to learn about my friends through lunch, rather than through a screen. β™‘

    Reply

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