The Born Freelancer on the Merits of Unplugging

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in the comments. 


This blog’s recent hiatus reminded me of the importance (to me anyway) of occasionally unplugging from the internet in order to properly recharge.

Some of you may find this a completely heretical suggestion to make. To you, I offer no apologies but understanding of your addiction. It afflicted me once too.

As freelancers, we are in the unique position of being able to choose the how and when of our work life. Nine to fivers do not share this luxury. And so at least once a year (summer time is ideal) I choose to exercise that ability and unplug to reassert my independence from the net.

At least for a week or two.

It enables me to feel that I have redressed (to some degree) my dependence upon it. A delusion? Perhaps. As freelancers, the internet is our lifeline to employers, potential employers, colleagues, resources, etc. But that very dependence can feel counter-productive when it relentlessly seems to control us rather than the other way around.

To me, it is all about rebalancing internal boundaries and priorities. And that is no delusion.

First, a bit of history.

I did not arrive at my annual sabbatical from bits and bytes overnight.

It began slowly.

Several times a year I would take short trips to visit friends and family or just to get away and take my laptop along. I called them “work-cations” and stayed in touch with my work online while enjoying real life benefits. I still do a number of these whenever I can. My real life hosts understand that my focus will be split between them and my online life. My online clients understand that there may be slight delays in my responsiveness during such periods of travel.

It seemed an ideal compromise.

But eventually I noticed that I was not always getting the ultimate benefits out of either. Some freelancers can do this balancing act indefinitely; alas, I was not one of them. Work seemed to suffer because I was not fully focused. Real life relationships suffered for pretty much the same reason. It seemed ridiculous to travel enormous distances to ignore the very people I had come to spend real life facetime with because some unaccomodating client couldn’t wait.

So I decided on a trial separation. Of my online and offline lives.

I tried to create a week or two every year during which far away family and friends were my first and only priority. It seemed so obvious a clear cut case of prioritizing my personal and therefore professional well-being.

Except to some of my clients.

Despite numerous advance warnings that I would be going offline for a certain period, a small number of difficult clients would always view it as some kind of challenge to be overcome. Again and again I would remind them of my upcoming e-mancipation. Yes, yes, fine, we understand, they’d agree. I made sure there was always ample time before my offline escape to complete all contracted undertakings.

And every time I would be on the verge of pulling the plug there would be at least a few last minute panic requests. Can you do this? Can you change that? You must understand that they had had weeks and even months to contact me and address these issues. It was only because I was going offline that they suddenly decided that they could not live without regular contact. And by regular contact, of course, I mean making me do a lot of unscheduled work during the very period of time I had told them I would not be available.

Naturally, as a freelancer – that is to say, a self-employed individual terrified of saying no to any offer of work – I would always manage somehow to accommodate these sometimes ludicrous requests. Once I was physically located so far off the grid that the only internet connection was via an ancient electronic brute on dial up at the back of a sleepy small town general store. It made for both an unhappy holiday and an unhappy client.

Compromises rarely please anyone.

At the end of such holidays I would come back feeling less rested and more resentful than ever. This went on for years. What else was I to do?

So we come to that fateful year. As usual I prepared for my supposedly unplugged holiday again, alerting clients well in advance, etc. And then at the very last minute a regular client (and a real procrastinator) suddenly decided they needed me.

This time I had had enough. It was time to take control of my life even in a small symbolic way. It was time to stop living in fear. It was time I said no.

I said no.

It was my line in the sand. I drew it deep and I drew it unapologetically.

Of course, I was still terrified I might never work for them again. But there seemed to be a bigger principle at stake.

Clearly they had no respect for my needs. In retrospect, it wasn’t all their fault, they were only mirroring my own priorities. I had always put theirs before my own.

Not any more.

And do you know what? It was one of my best holidays ever. After a few days of online withdrawal – looking wistfully at any object resembling a computer screen such as window panes, glass counter tops and aquariums – it felt great. No emails, no blogs, no news sites, no games, no random surfing, no late night bleary eyes! I was totally into the moment, into the real life facetime with family and friends and fully immersing myself into whatever new physical as well as emotional and intellectual environments I found myself without compromise.

When I came back I felt refreshed, renewed, recharged and ready to go. My work I’m sure improved because my attitude was so positive and upbeat again.

I’ve never looked back.

Reality check: OK, I lost that client. But I am convinced that they actually took pleasure in spoiling my holidays. Why? Because they could. So I could happily live without them too.

All of my new and remaining clients came to totally respect and understand my need for time offline. Because I finally did. Most confidentially confessed that they wished that they could do the same.


I am convinced that unplugging from the internet now and then is beneficial in many ways, psychologically and creatively:

* It puts you fully in charge of what are only work tools after all.

* It enables you to prioritize the people and places important enough in your life that you might travel to see.

* I find daily online life stimulating but that its endless bombardment of “noise” eventually wears me down. Getting away from it even briefly once a year enables me to recalibrate. There’s actually time to read books, to walk, to relax, to rediscover who and what you are all about. And I appreciate real life so much more –  especially those overlooked but important things like glorious sunsets, summer breezes and warm nights full of good conversation. (If these mean nothing to you please ignore this entire post, it’s not relevant to your life. Yet. Come back and read it again in a few years.)

* Creatively, time offline restimulates my imagination. Surprised? I think it is all about being in the moment, being fully immersed in the real world. It’s not unlike a sponge that needs to soak up more actual liquid before being wrung out yet again. I never stop making notes and getting ideas for work while on an offline vacation. My creativity flourishes as a result.

The takeaway

Will any of this work for you? I can’t say. All I know is that it is now an essential part of my life. (And yes, I get the irony of using the internet to say so.) I know for some freelancers the idea of going offline for any period of time will be unthinkable. Many others may live in fear of losing work. But living in fear is no way to live your life. Especially the freelance life.

So if you think you might benefit, and if you are able to arrange for it, why not try it? We’re only talking a week or two a year. If that seems too much, begin with a couple days and see how you go. They might just enrich your productivity and use of the internet during the rest of the year.

You’ll never know unless you try.


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Posted on July 11, 2014 at 9:01 am by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

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