Gone Analog: Why and How to Take a Digital Sabbatical

a peek at my wisdom journal

from my Wisdom Journal, circa 2001

Procrastinators Rejoice!

lying around doing nothing

Proven to help prevent heart attacks

(random magazine headlines, arranged to my liking and context)

(Note: This post was written January 15, 2013)

By the time you read this, I’ll be off on an adventure with some of my best girlfriends, and taking a digital sabbatical off email for nearly three weeks.

Since Ease and Fun are part of my expanded plan for 2013, I build a period of rest and rejuvenation right at the beginning of the year. The last half of January.

I first learned about media fasts from Julia Cameron, when I studied with her back in Chicago in the late 1980s.

Remember what life was like before email and Internet? This is when a media fast meant back then: no TV and no consumption of news via magazines and newspapers.

When / why / how did it become so radical to not check email all the time?

I don’t know about you, but email stresses me out. Being on the computer too much stresses me out. Thank goodness email and texting seems to have superseded the telephone in terms of usage…because a ringing telephone stresses me out even more.

I got Skype back in 2006 to take all of my calls, and so that I could have a San Francisco Bay Area phone number that rang into my computer wherever the world I was.

I start getting cranky when I’m in front of screens too much. It’s like life isn’t being lived fully.

For years I’ve made it a habit to disconnect completely. Sometimes by going somewhere where there is no wifi, no phones, no TV, not even much electricity. Going away for a week without having to respond to beeping devices would feel like having a month off.

I’ve gone as long as two months off, when I spent time in the backcountry wilderness of Alaska. Those two months would feel like I had a year off. I would come back “to civilization” with all my senses so attuned to nature, that I would be in an altered state for days. Altered in a good way.

It was helpful to learn that the world would not tilt out of orbit should I choose to take time off and not answer email. I’m not a surgeon. There aren’t any truly life/death emergencies in my line of work.

If there is any sort of family emergency, I am reachable by my cell phone that never rings unless it’s to plan fun things to do with friends. I only give out my cell to friends and family. People who I want to reach me.

Having a digital sabbatical doesn’t mean having to go anywhere. Another favorite strategy of mine has been to just unplug everything in house and tell people I’m out of town. And then stay home and do nothing but read or paint or write and take long walks.

Your Turn: How To Create Your Own Digital Sabbatical

1. Clarify your Reasons Why

What is motivating you to take a break from the digital world? What is it that you want more of? What is it you want less of?

2. Create a Forward-Facing Intention

A forward-facing intention means that your intention is moving you toward something you really want: more time hanging out outdoors, a solid period of time to nurture a new idea. Think: writer’s retreat!

Usually we are tempted to create away-facing intentions, which are based on avoiding or eliminating something. That’s ok, but it’s more powerful to move toward what we want than away from what we don’t want. Make sense?

My intentions for my email sabbatical:

To spend time in the company of dear friends, face to face and in-person. Without devices like blackberries and iphones getting in our way.

To create a two week space to nurture new ideas in my sketchbook. Working analog is sexy!

To be able to travel freely without the stress of needing to find wifi. Which means…going where wifi is not going to be. Rocky mountain high is on my itinerary, for example.

To relish the mental space that clears up when I untether myself from needing to respond to email. If I don’t declare a no-email time-out, then I always feel like I should be checking it.

3. Decide in advance what your digital sabbatical includes or doesn’t include. 

This makes it easier to plan, and stick to the plan. It’s not like you have to go cold turkey off all of your devices and apps – unless that’s what you want to do.

Maybe you want to be off the computer, including email, but still enjoy your iPad. Or TV. My friend Tamara goes “back to the 70s”, one day every weekend, which means only using the technology that was available in the 1970s.

4. Prepare Your Hordes and Masses

Let people know whats up so that they’re not freaking out when they can’t reach you. And you’re not freaking out thinking that people can’t reach you.

Different people may need different preparations: friends, family, clients, blog readers (hello you gorgeous genius!), potential suitors.

5. It’s your email. Manage it how you want.

If you’re going off email: Set up an autoresponder in your email program so people will get a message letting them know you are not checking email. Let them know when to get back in touch.

One of the very best email autoresponders I ever got, and still remember years later, was when I emailed Jennifer Louden, and the message that came back was something like:

Hi – I’m taking a sabbatical right now and not checking email until (date). If you have something you want to run by me, please email me after that date.

So that I don’t freak out when I get back from my sabbatical by looking at an overflowing inbox, any messages sent before that date will be deleted.


When I read that, I had such a massive hit of sabbatical envy / pure glee that someone could dare to just Delete. And therefore not be stressed out about what happens after the party is over. Who wants to come home to an inbox hangover?

That just seems just beside the point. So this Delete approach is what I’ll be doing on my sabbatical. Thanks, Jen, for the idea!


This seems like way too many words to say: Go ahead, take a break, go outside and play. Go analog!


Sketchbook Fun (While You Were Out Ignoring Your Email)

Cut up magazine headlines and juxtapose them onto fine art postcard. (See my example, above)

Cut up some of your art books! Then paste it all back, mixed up and as juxtaposed as you dare, into your sketchbook or journal. Or right over the top of your agenda or to-do list.

Even better: make an art date with someone who like to cut stuff up and glue shit down. It’s way more fun to do in the company of kindreds.


p.s. I will be off email until February 1st. In case I didn’t say that clearly. It’s late and I have to catch a plane in a few hours. 🙂


3 Responses to Gone Analog: Why and How to Take a Digital Sabbatical

  1. Max Daniels January 17, 2013 at 7:45 am #

    Oooooh, I love everything here. EVERYTHING.

    But especially:

    – lying around doing nothing (really calls to me)
    – going analog is sexy
    – how did it become so radical to not check email all the time?

    Lisa, enjoy your holiday!

  2. Celeste January 15, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    Thanks for posting this! I put it on Pinterest.


  1. Gone Analog…Almost | Lisa Sonora - September 24, 2015

    […] You can read about the why and how to take a Digital Sabbatical here. […]

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