Taking a Break from Technology is Sometimes Necessary

I just returned from vacation. My wife and I spent the last nine days with her family in Ireland. It was amazing.

I was forced to take a much-needed break from technology. No computer. No cell phone. Just me, a good book, and the open Irish road.

The result of this mini-sabbatical was nothing short of revelatory.

Technology break
Photo credit: Flickr (Creative commons)

An awakening

There is more to life than flickering pixels and online avatars. More than status updates and Google alerts.

There are picnics and fine cheeses and laughter around breakfast tables. There are jogs through the brisk morning air and crude British humor.

There is love and life abundant.

And some of us need to remember that.

It took a trip across the Atlantic Ocean for me to understand this, but I’m slowly learning the truth of this quote:

“Life is not a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”

-Stephen King, On Writing

So often, I think that my life exists to support my obsessions — my love affair with writing and creativity and being acknowledged. But this isn’t the case at all. Those are all means to an end.

When we treat our work as life — instead of a way to live — we fall out of balance and into unhealthy habits.

The only way out is to move in to something else. To step away and gain a new perspective. That’s what I did during vacation. And there were three lessons I learned from my recent break from technology:

Lesson 1: Embrace your surroundings

I learned that the world is a beautiful place.

Granted, I was in Ireland — a land that is lush and verdant, but when I returned to Tennessee (equally as beautiful as the Emerald Isle in its own way) I was struck with the beauty of coming home.

I realized that my time away from the laptop and iPhone made this perspective possible.

And I’m grateful.

Lesson 2: Embrace your inner life

During my vacation, I had a lot of time to think, pray, and reflect. Much of this time was while surrounded by beautiful scenery or during extended times in the car (we did a lot of driving).

During such times, I would normally pull out my smartphone and check my email or tweet something clever. But I wasn’t able to do that.

Instead, I was forced to ponder and dream. I was allowed to be creative again, no longer controlled by the urgency of the moment. I learned how to be proactive again, instead of merely reactive.

Lesson 3: Embrace inspiration from other sources

Oddly, this time wasn’t filled with much writing. Other than some scribbles in my Moleskine from the plane ride and the first night in our bed and breakfast, I didn’t write at all.

Instead of creating content, I consumed it. (This, admittedly, is something I have unfortunately been neglecting.)

I read books and listened to music and had life-giving conversations with perfect strangers. I held my wife’s hand more than I usually do and drank delicious coffee and tea. (If you know me at all, you know that this is just as inspiring at powerful prose penned by a master.)

But weren’t you writing all week?

For those of you who follow my blog and tweets, you may be tempted to call my bluff.

After all, I was seemingly writing and sharing all kinds of content while I was allegedly on vacation. (Just look at my blog and Twitter feed.)

Here’s my secret: The day before I left, I hustled like crazy to write and schedule posts and tweets (and also had some help from a few guest bloggers).

In fact, I learned that I don’t have to constantly be checking my online brand in order for it to still have an impact. But that’s a lesson for another post.

A final challenge

If you are going to do creative work that will change the world, then there is one ingredient necessary to your success: rest.

You must take time to take care of your soul, to check in with your emotional self and make sure all is well with your inner life. This is essential — more than with any other type of work, in my opinion.

Because your vocation requires you to pull from within, to consult the genius inside of you, to reach into the depths of your soul and share it with the world — to inspire, encourage, challenge, and change.

I will say it again: If you endeavor to create, you must rest.

Granted, my last break from technology wasn’t an intentional choice, but given what I learned, I intend to make breaks like this more of a regular discipline.

Further reading: 8 Simple Ways to Take a Technology Break

Have you ever gone on a technology fast? If so, what did you learn? Join the discussion in the comments.

*Photo credit: batintherain (Creative Commons)

82 thoughts on “Taking a Break from Technology is Sometimes Necessary

  1. I try to take a plethora of mini rest periods. I disconnect at least every other week for about 24 hours or so. Maybe my wife and I have a Friday night date and I might unplug for Friday night and all day Saturday.

    Nothing functions properly in my life if I am not rested and fulfilled in my roles as a husband and a father.

  2. I’ve been on a mini-fast for the past 10 days. More of a Daniel’s fast than a cold turkey one. It’s been absolutely liberating. I’ve scaled everything back, including my email interaction both personally and at work.

    Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees but once you’re out of the woods, perspective is astounding. 

    I realize how much time I was voluntarily giving away being in the digital space. I saw how much my real life relationships were being famished. 

    It has helped that I’ve done it by cutting back rather than completely cutting out. Every time I cut out, I don’t know how to inch back in and I find myself exactly where I started.

  3. Great thoughts.  But you made me a little jealous, my husband and I took our honeymoon over in Ireland.  I want to go back!   Those country seaside roads are amazing.  I’m learning that you not only come back from breaks recharged but also with some new ideas to write about. 

  4. this was awesome. I am taking a little break from it all this week, and while this is onnly the first day of *rest* for me, already I feel the weight easing up… we get so deep in it sometimes we forget that LIFE comes first.  Thanks for this. It’s exactly what I needed to hear. 😉  Sounds like an awesome trip!!

  5. Awesome advice. I took a short break from my blog this weekend and “consumed content” instead of “creating it.” It was refreshing, but I felt guilty for slacking off. Thanks for giving me permission to rest. I’ll remember your advice next time! 

    Also- Stephen King quote= awesome! That’s my favorite book of all time. 

  6. Awesome advice. I took a short break from my blog this weekend and “consumed content” instead of “creating it.” It was refreshing, but I felt guilty for slacking off. Thanks for giving me permission to rest. I’ll remember your advice next time! 

    Also- Stephen King quote= awesome! That’s my favorite book of all time. 

  7. Awesome advice. I took a short break from my blog this weekend and “consumed content” instead of “creating it.” It was refreshing, but I felt guilty for slacking off. Thanks for giving me permission to rest. I’ll remember your advice next time! 

    Also- Stephen King quote= awesome! That’s my favorite book of all time. 

      1. Even if it didn’t lead to better creativity (which it does), I still think it’s a good idea because it’s a God idea.    We’ve got way too many Mary-mentalities spreading sickness amongst Christians  and too few Martha-mentalities of ‘listening, stopping, resting…rather than doing.’    (I’m not against Mary mentalities as food/service is good, but a Martha mentality is identified as ‘the better thing’ yet in most of our lives it does not manifest as such. )   Hey, I’m a missionary amongst the poor, so I’m definitely not against ‘doing’, but our social media interconnected world can make us more frantic and feeling self-important, rather than people delivering His peace and humility.

  8. Awesome advice. I took a short break from my blog this weekend and “consumed content” instead of “creating it.” It was refreshing, but I felt guilty for slacking off. Thanks for giving me permission to rest. I’ll remember your advice next time! 

    Also- Stephen King quote= awesome! That’s my favorite book of all time. 

  9. Ah yes, the oft-neglected doctrine of the Sabbath Rest.  This is a hard one to come to terms with in our fast-paced, performance-driven, “what have you done for me lately?” world.  But it’s vital!  We are creators made in the image of our creating God, but even HE rested on the seventh day, did He not? Resting, breathing, stopping, is a chance to remember that we are not God and that the world does indeed move forward without us.  It’s good, and humbling, for the soul. 

    PS – I have a trip planned to Ireland and Scotland next summer.  Can’t wait…

  10. Good stuff here, Jeff.  I’ve been wondering myself lately about the value of being proactive, as you say.  Letting an idea or thought simmer for days, weeks, months or even years before it is ever read or heard by someone else.  Before social media and instant publishing, writers and creatives had no other option.  And I wonder if there isn’t something about their art that shows it.

    Now a challenge for you: next time you go on vacation, in addition to not monitoring your online brand, don’t even maintain it.  Let your “voice” be silent for a week or two.  As important as rest is for you, it is equally important that we notice you’re resting if only that we might follow suit.

    It may just be that the frantic scheduling of tweets and blogs in advance of your rest sabotaged your efforts to some extent just as binge eating just before starting a diet might.  

    Something to think about, at least.

    1. I completely agree with you, Jesse. Great challenge. Being silent, setting the example, is quite a test of our ability to let go of outcomes.

      I would offer another challenge: Ask yourself if there is any fear motivating the “frantic scheduling of tweets and blogs in advance of your rest”? Be honest. What will happen if you allow a brief silence?

    2. I see your point here, Jesse, but I think I disagree with you as well.  From reading Jeff’s blog for a few months now, I can tell that his work is not frantic.  It comes from who he is, it seems.  For pretty much any job you do (pastoring included), you sometimes have to work ahead so that you can take a break.  The same is true in life.  When my wife and I work harder on Friday to clean the house and plan our meals for sabbath on Saturday, it allows us to completely relax during that time.  Otherwise, Sunday is an uphill battle and our whole week gets off to a rough start.  Pressing pause doesn’t mean letting go of responsibilities; it means stepping away from them temporarily. And knowing that all is well when you’re not there gives you peace of mind during your time of rest.

      I see Jeff’s planning and hustle as a sign of maturity and responsibility.  Not only did he work ahead, but he leaned on the support of others by allowing them to guest blog.  I don’t believe I would be encouraged to take more breaks if I didn’t see anything from Jeff for a week.  In fact, I’m pretty sure all of the other online noise would just fill in the (large) gap his absence would leave.

      1. Hi Jon,

        You make an excellent point about Sabbath rest, and I think there’s much validity to it (I had also given some thought to the same yesterday and wondered if I hadn’t jumped the gun on the binge/diet analogy).  I also think you are right about Jeff’s hard work ethic and to that extent, Jeff deserves much commendation for his ability to plan ahead.

        I’m more concerned with what I see among many young evangelicals like myself and Jeff, with an insatiable need to maintain one’s ego/reputation/brand so much so that their lives become driven by it.  I don’t know if this is where Jeff is at or not.  But I do think with Jeff’s stage in life, gifts in writing and creativity, and growing audience, he is at a higher risk to buy into the lie.  

        I was listening to a Matt Chandler sermon today and he said every week he has fans and he has foes…and he’s not sure which is better.  I found that curious.  We’re inclined to think fans are better: people who support and are being changed by what we do.  But just as often, they’re whispering words of encouragement to us as we destroy our own souls.

      2. This is going to sound cheesy, but…

        Remember towards the end of the last Batman movie?  The Joker turned Harvey Dent to the dark side, so to speak.  The reason he went after Dent?  Dent was the best of them.  His was the spirit that was exceedingly optimistic.  His were the gifts on the brink of changing a city.

        So, too, Jeff is among the best of them.  All the more reason he needs to protect himself from the lure of ego.

    3. That’s something I did on my recent vacation. 

      I had repurposed some popular blog posts from the past to run in my absence, but the only thing on Twitter were scattered photos of European landmarks. 

      I didn’t check Twitter responses, I didn’t respond to emails, I didn’t have to report to anybody online. 

      And such a tragedy, I lost 10 Klout points. The horror. 

      But I also gained back some sanity.

      1. The horror, indeed. Hilarious.

        That sounds glorious, Ryan.

        Btw, I turned off my phone at 6pm (as soon as I got home) and haven’t turned it back on yet. I think I’m gonna shut my computer down. Thought of you and your bowl for your smartphone. Thanks for who you are — you’re an example.

  11. Sometimes God has to force us to take a break from these things. And in the middle of it we see what a blessing it is. My friend @jenniferowhite:twitter  posted about her forced technology break from her iphone today if you’re interested in reading: https://bit.ly/pkkccW

  12. Your lessons weren’t the result of intention, but those are the best lessons–they make the biggest impression.

    Technology will steal your soul, your true self, and feed the ego, and with a sneakiness that you won’t even detect.

    I have fasted and will continue to do so periodically. It allows me to put ego in its place and allows me to spiritually recenter.

    Great post–thanks.

  13. Interesting again! I was just thinking about taking a week-long break from Facebook.

    No doubt about it – we must take regular breaks from technology and stay connected to the real world of actual people!

    Thanks, Jeff!

  14. This is a battle Jeff! We are surrounded by so much ‘noise’ that it’s hard to break free sometimes. I just wrote a post about finding time ‘Alone with God,’ and how that is the best place for us but a very difficult thing to keep consistent.

    And I’m so jealous of your trip!

  15. I try to take a fast from technology a few times a year. It helps me refocus, break the constant stare at some kind of computer/phone screen and refreshes me. I’m looking forward to doing it again soon.

  16. Our life is one of communion and community.  Rest seems to be a practice of both.

    Awesome post!  Where in Ireland?

  17. I broke up with {my personal} FB a few months ago and it has been freeing for me on so many levels.  I’ve spent less time online in general.  I’ve had less negative thoughts about others float into my mind for no reason.  And, I’ve been more purposeful about the time I do spend online.  I’m planning to get back together, once other things in my life are more in order.

    We took 2 short vacations this summer and I recognized so much of what you shared here.  Sure, there is much less “to do” on vacation-it’s all about relaxation, enjoying the moment, and just being with the ones you love.  When we returned from our vacation, I realized I wanted more of those things in my regular life, NOT just a few times a year.  So, we’ve been working on cutting back on things-decluttering, simplifying, reducing commitments.  It’s hard in our culture, especially in a big city environment.  But, it can be done. 

  18. I felt relaxed just reading your post Jeff. I’m going to be taking some time off work in the next few weeks with the arrival of baby number 2 in our family. I’m taking your words to heart. We’ll see how I do. 

    Are you going to have more Ireland-focused posts in the near future? I’d like to hear more about the insights you gained there. Relaxation and travel often give me the space to think of new ideas I never would have come up with otherwise. Keep up the good work Jeff! 

  19. Because weekends are for family, church, and fellowship I don’t blog. I let it lie seemingly fallow, and always seem to come back somehow refreshed on Mondays. So it is that I make rest a weekly practice.

    That I think is the secret: rest is as much a discipline as the work. We must make ourselves do it.

  20. I went on an involuntary technology fast this past weekend while camping with the family. At first I thought I was going to die, but it was actually REALLY nice to relax and purposefully waste time w/ the family completely unplugged.

  21. Thanks for this post.  It is rare to hear people talking about unplugging.  I actually unplug on Saturday and Sunday of every weekend – I don’t even turn on the computer.  And I put myself on a technology schedule (1-2 hours a day) the rest of the week so that I can focus on other things that matter in life and give myself breathing space for my creative mind.  It has been working so far.

  22. Jeff, thanks for sharing. I think we all get caught up in trying to get things done and don’t realize until we are exhausted that we need to take breaks. I am trying to make sure to keep my main focus on studying the Bible and drawing strength from the giver of life.
    May God bless you and the work you do. 

  23. Hi Jeff,

    I’m glad you had a nice vacation with your wife in Ireland!

    I agree, rest is key for productivity and creativity. Here’s something that happened to me recently. Internet wasn’t installed in my appartment yet, but I have it on my iPhone. I love watching funny videos like “Whose Line Is It Anyway”, and whenever I was taking a break or resting after eating, I would load up Youtube and watch a few episodes. My mind would simply never go off. And I felt restless.

    I quickly reach 80% of my 6gig data plan, and I had to stop watching those videos. Instead, I started listening to music, or just letting my mind wander. 

    Within a few days, I felt much better, and I was resting more.

    So yes, it’s crucial to turn technology off regularly! 


  24. I couldn’t agree more Jeff. I’m just back from a blogging/social media vacation and it was sheer pleasure not to be controlled by media. I didn’t write any at all and had no desire to. I need more of these throughout the year. It spoke to and refreshed my soul and I’ll do it again.

  25. Hey Jeff. Good stuff. I had a similar moment where I stopped for a moment to think whether I can live without techonology..and I’ve written an article on it here [https://www.abstract-thoughts.com/thoughts/the-times-have-changed/]

    Thought the central idea is different, the line I’d like to quote is. 

    “Maybe only for a day, would you go back to the simple life..so void of technology.Would you survive a day without email,without instant messaging, without your quadcore proc PC or without your 7 inch touch tablet.All these things wouldn’t be there, but would you really miss it? What would rather have..enjoy the advances of technology at your fingertips..OR… “

  26. Great post Jeff! 

    Taking a break is definitely essential. If I’m not on vacation, one thing I’ve done in the past that has been extremely refreshing is to just not look my phone and turn on my laptop for an entire day, at the end of the week. 

    I admit, the first time I did this, it was pretty challenging not to check my phone for “missed called” or “important emails”. My mind would even play the old trick of “hmm, wonder what time it is? just check your phone…” I ended up checking my phone 3 times throughout the day, but resisted the temptation to even check the waiting emals, messages, etc. blinking away.

    I did this a couple days in a span of 4-5 weeks, and it was extremely refreshing. I just spent the day reading, enjoying the weather, exercising, etc. It was priceless!

    In fact, if you can, I’d recommend taking one day a week or every 2 weeks where you turn of the digital world. We all need that time away like you said, and we shouldn’t have to wait for vacation time to do it. (Just let your coworkers or colleagues know that you’re not available that day, so they’re not frantically trying to get a hold of you – and for that reason, weekends usually work best.)

    PS: Couldn’t agree more with Lesson 1: Embrace your surroundings. I spent a lot of time on a plane last year while traveling, and if there’s one thing I learned, is that we truly live in a Beautiful World! I had the fortune of taking in some of the most amazing views during my travels, even catching the full sunrise from 30,000ft. I’ve shared a couple pictures in my post here if you’re interested:


  27. Great post Jeff. As a creative-type and driven person, it is very hard for me to slow down, let alone stop. But I know that’s what God calls me to do. John Eldredge talks about how there is a very specific pace to a life spent walking with God. Thanks for reminding me of that!

  28. As a writer who is just about to start a break, this is so meaningful. When you are stunted creatively, it’s like trying to get water from a rock; nothing is going to come out. Thanks a million for the post and I totally shared this before my computer goes dim for a while <3

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