It’s Time for a Digital Sabbatical

I am reading Leo Babauta’s new book, Focus. This book is another masterpiece by Leo and I can’t wait to share more with you. He has a free and paid version so check it out. FYI – This is not an affiliate link. I am only telling you about it because it’s great and it will help you.

Gwen Bell wrote a chapter in Focus about taking a digital sabbatical that inspired this post. Gwen took a month long digital sabbatical and she is still relevant and still a rock star. I have written about simplifying your social media, and limiting the number of times you check your email, but not about completely disconnecting. The real reason I haven’t written about it, is because I haven’t done it. That is about to change! While I’m not ready for a month off, I am planning on one day a week to get started.

Gwen’s chapter about taking a break from the www includes great how to tips. You will have to read the book to see those, but the following I had to share:

“You will miss things. Unplugged or not, you’re missing something. Unplugging gives you perspective to decide what you don’t want to miss. Focus, by definition, means you choose one thing over another. You give your attention completely to the task at hand, not worrying that you’re missing something.”

So, isn’t that why you don’t unplug? Because you might miss something? What if someone tweets a really cool link and you miss it? What if someone emails you at 8am and you don’t respond right away? The real question is, what are you missing when you are plugged in? What’s going on in the world, your city, in your backyard, or at your child’s school?

I don’t remember the last time I went a whole day without checking email or twitter or Facebook. Even just a glance was enough to get by, but what did I miss? What did I glance away from, and how much time did it take to get back on track? Too long.

And my favorite part from Gwen’s chapter…”Unplugging gives you an opportunity to miss the work you do. Missing is good, it creates a desire to connect at a focused, heart level.” Think about that. Connecting at a focused, heart level is so cool and if we all did it, imagine how that would change the world. I haven’t asked Gwen, but I have to guess that “focused, heart level” came from her yoga mat. I told you yoga can change the world!

Always be on digital sabbatical in your car!

I wrote about my “oh shit” moment a few months ago. I had been driving my daughter home from school, taking work calls, thinking about the next item on my list of things I will never get done, and my daughter is talking about her day. She’s talking about her day, and I’m nodding and throwing in a couple of responses,  “really?” “cool!” and a few nods to let her think I am still involved, but by the time we get home, I have no idea what she said. Not only is that embarrassing, but it is really sad that I missed that opportunity to learn something, teach something or just engage and enjoy.

By being connected in my car, I was completely disconnected from my daughter. She deserves my full attention.

In addition to missing time with someone I really care about, I was endangering my life, the lives of my passengers and drivers around me every time I checked a message, sent an email or returned a call in the car. Texting at a red light counts as texting in your car. Please stop. The message can wait.

So, let’s slow down, or just stop as Scott Stratten, author of UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging puts it in this video. It is almost 15 minutes long, so save it somewhere so you have time to watch it to the end. It will move you and it might change you.

If you decide to join me in taking a digital sabbatical, read Focus and Gwen’s chapter starting on page 144. Then, pick a day or time frame that works for you. Thanks Leo, Thanks Gwen, Thanks Scott. You’ve moved me and changed me.



  1. says

    Courtney, I love what you said about missing work. I think that’s the idea behind vacations – you take some time off so that hopefully you’re recharged to bust out another 51 weeks. But why does vacation have to come once a year? I think our minds require constant renewal and that’s the beauty of a digital sabbatical.

    And Courtney, do I even need to remind you how dangerous it is to be distracted by phone calls when you’re driving 😉

  2. says

    I applaud you and think we all owe it to ourselves to practice such discipline. And yes, it is discipline at first because we are all so digitally connected that we think nothing checking our email, sending a Tweet, looking up a this or that, etc.

    I take a digital sabbatical every weekend from 8pm EST Friday to 8am EST Monday. It has been the single best investment I have made in a solid year. You can read more about it here:

    So again, I applaud you and I hope more people follow the lead! Cheers!

  3. says

    Courtney, this is a terrific message, one that I’ve been thinking about ever since Jean decided to give up blogging to make time for the people and aspects of her life that are most important to her. I only started blogging a few months ago and I know this is something very important to me. I love being able to connect with amazing people from all over the world and share messages with one another about how we can come together to improve our own lives as well as the world we live in. I find myself being inspired every single day. But I also feel myself getting anxious and overwhelmed at times. There are so many cool people to meet, awesome blogs to read, not to mention trying to grow my own blog! Like you said, I’m always going to miss something…it’s just not possible to keep up or catch up to everyone, especially when I’m still working full time and attending grad school part time. The more room I make for my cyber friends, the less room I have for my friends and family right here. As with all things in life, there must be balance.

    I’m so glad you included the piece about unplugging in the car too! I’m definitely guilty of the same thing. Really, as you said, what on earth could be more important than the safety of others? When we’re on the road, it deserves our full attention. If I’m alone in the car, I’ll listen to an audiobook if I really feel like I should be making the most out of the time. Sometimes I just turn the radio and everything off and create a mindful practice out of driving.

    I definitely need to add Leo’s new book to my queue. Thanks for sharing!

  4. says

    I love this message!! (and must thank Adrienne…from up above…for directing me here…thanks Adrienns!!!)

    It can be so easy to get caught up in staying so “caught up” with what seems important. What are we missing, though – from all of this?? Moments. Moments that come and go. And in those moments, what have we foregone because of the “connections” we’ve kept?

    Mmmm…that digital sabbatical sounds like a pretty wonderful thing! I’m headed out of town in about a week (to do some mountain biking with my oldest son!)…and this sounds like a great time to take a good couple of days as a sabbatical…which you are inspiring me to do (more completely than I had planned).

  5. says

    The points you mentioned about taking a digital sabbatical while in your car – always – is something my mom and I were talking about a few weeks ago. When I mentioned how I sometimes text people back while at a red light, she said, “Nothing can be that important. You should wait. Especially because there’s precious cargo in the vehicle.”

    My mom is always right.

  6. says


    I think the desire avoid “missing something” might be the biggest challenge – at a superficial level – of this generation. Here’s why I say superficial. When I unplugged I asked myself what it was I was afraid I’d miss. I wanted to dive into the heart of the fear and get clarity around it. What if I don’t check my email? What if I take the Twitter app off my iPhone? What if I read a book instead of a blog post?

    What I discovered underneath all the superficial wanting to “connect” was a deep disconnect with myself. With my body (to which Scott alludes in the remarkable TEDx talk). With my deeper desires.

    At the time I was working with an Executive Coach (we are now creating a 4-week course/support network to help people in Boulder unplug). I asked her what was with my desire to segment my day into tiny pieces (I call them hits. I want a quick hit, I just jump on Facebook). She didn’t give me a quick solution, but she did give me this metaphor.

    With the web, she explained, it’s simple to be a water bug. Flitting from place to place, skimming the surface. Staying above water.

    When we unplug, we take a deep dive. That deep dive into ourselves and our life experience can be tremendous. It’s both overwhelming and refreshing. It’s both scary and revealing. It’s boring, and it’s exciting. It’s all those things at once.

    The social web provides a nice, superficial “party” for us to attend moment to moment. The easier it is to participate, the harder it is to put down. And that’s what the kind folks behind Twitter and Facebook and all our other online habits want. They want us to spend our lives on their sites. The board members and stockholders get rich through our participation in the parties they’re throwing for us 24/7.

    So, what I’m saying is this. It takes a tremendous amount of willpower to power down. But it’s crucial, as you and Leo and Scott and me (and Tammy Strobel/Rowdy Kittens and Ev Bogue/Far Beyond the Stars and…) know.

    When we say it’s time for a Digital Sabbatical what we’re also saying is it’s time for a deep dive. It’s time to evaluate, at a heart level, where we’re at, who we are and where we’re heading. That level of self-reflection changes everything (I have a post on the topic coming up next week at Kind over Matter). There’s a necessary un-meshing. A pulling apart. A period of recalibration.

    But to my mind, it’s better to choose it than to have that choice made for us. It’s better to slow down, than to be stopped altogether. It’s better to power down now than to wish, sometime maybe years down the road, that we had.

  7. says

    Focus is such a good book! I’m already on my second time reading it and this time, I’m using a highlighter to make notes :)

    You’re right, we get so caught up in the digital world that we forget there’s a real world out there to enjoy. Instead of mindlessly reading message boards for an hour, I decided to play with my dog instead.

  8. says

    I’m not that far in Leo’s book yet but I can dig the no phone in car thing even though I’m alone in my car most of the time. It’s nothing but a bad habit I can live without. I’m not important enough to miss anything. And really who is?!? After our move I’ll get to more of Leo’s book. Right not I have to focus on moving;)Hope all is well with you. Sound like it’s better than ever;)

  9. says


    It’s refreshing to read your message. I like the one day a week approach. I also think that you hit the nail on the head about the ‘fear’ of missing something. I’ve found it interesting to observe the “pull” I sometimes feel when I take a day off. Thanks for the book recommendations too. I see more focus in my life could be a great thing!

  10. says

    I get this, I really do. What awesome piece of news will everyone else know first? What invitation or e-course (that would finally make me complete) will I miss? What ways am I not enough, are others better? (this one can be more subtle) Of course it’s hard to recognize these thoughts because it’s so easy to numb.

    And I completely agree with Gwen that the core is disconnection with myself. Discontent. Disinterest.

    I start the conversation of reconnection by getting on the mat. For someone else it might be playing soccer, playing guitar, going fishing, drawing. It doesn’t have to be something profound, just some way get the conversation flowing.

    For me, disconnection is often about being/feeling stuck–in a rut, in an emotional state, on a project… whatever. This is often how I feel with FB/Twit–completely trapped, sucked in, numb, and stuck. By getting movement in there, things can start to flow, and when they move and flow, they can change and start to come back into balance.

    On a related note, I’m doing a 30 day cleanse right now—no wheat/gluten, dairy, or sugar. I’m also eating every four hours as opposed to my usual grazing. I’ve been struck by the insights around my unconscious eating patterns — going into the kitchen to avoid my work, having a little snack when I’m bored or bummed. These are the same patterns that prompt my online “hits.” They might also manifest as shopping or celebrity gossip “hits.” I think it’s all the same stuff, just expressed differently. And particularly with our earphone-, iPod-, online-obsessed culture, we are SO craving real living connection that of course we pop online to see what everybody’s doing. Is anybody out there? Is anybody feeling what I’m feeling?

    Thanks Courtney (and all) for having this important and layered discussion!

  11. says

    I have done this and it’s been wonderful. I try to do this every evening after 8 and for one whole day per weekend. At first, I thought I was going to go mad. Bad sign, I know. Those feelings were only proof of how much I need to do this.

    It’s gotten easier and it’s freeing, so very freeing. It’s made my life better. I’m glad you wrote about it, and challenged others to do it. Good work!

  12. says

    Courtney, I had an unexpected sabbatical today when our electricity was out for almost twelve hours. I was actually looking forward to the evening when we could just read and talk and knit (me).

  13. says

    Courtney, love how you admit your faults, own them and move through them with grace. I know what you mean about being the disengaged, nodding mom. It’s a real eye-opener, especially when they call you on it. It’s illegal to text or talk on the phone now when driving in our city and I’m happy about that, big time. Although many people still believe they are above the law and have a second set of eyes in the top of their heads. I hope you enjoy your sabbaticals. I, myself, love them when I take them, but need to take more. Weekly sounds like a good plan – like a date with your self.

  14. says

    Love the idea of a regular digital sabbatical. Sets a good example for kids, but if I could only convince my teens to join me…

  15. says

    Hello, Courtney! I read your encouraging blog weekly, though am a shy commentor. This topic has been much on my mind lately. In recent months I’ve been doing what I’ve been calling a digital slow down–checking email, etc, once a day only, and one day per week pc-free. I find it helping to add a better balance to my life and not being so digitally dependent. The idea of a month-long sabbatical intrigues, and I am considering it for the month of December or January. Thank you for all the food for thought here. Focus is on my reading list. ;o) Happy Day!

  16. says

    Thanks for this post – the book looks awesome!

    I have been taking a digital sabbatical with my husband for the first week of every month since 2003. We call it “media free week” – but it’s the same idea. Each month we recharge and get some of our life, relationships, and mental space back, and even find ourselves moving forward in our lives. I was very honored to be selected to present on my experiences at Ignite Baltimore, here’s a link to the video, if you’d like to see it:

    I love the idea of an extended sabbatical, too. I’ll have to give that a try!

  17. says

    Bravo Courtney for a flag waving post. If you want to switch on to all that’s precious and wonderful about life you first need to switch off from digital desire. Believe me I agree as when I press the ‘off’ button I am truly off to have fun and invest myself right there where I am with the people around me. No cyber pleasure, only the real deal works for me. I hope your message will be heard far and wide!!

  18. says

    Brilliant! I think I’m going to try this. Yesterday my computer just locked up and I was without it for a few hours. It was amazing just how much stuff I got done. I tackled a pile of paperwork and felt like I had achieved a lot. It was nice to have it back, but it was a great lesson on unplugging :-)

  19. Nin says

    For those of us who observe Shabbat (or the Sabbath for Christians) get this once a week. It’s really amazing how much more connected you can feel when you disconnect. From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday I hope to get better and better at avoiding the television, internet, chores, my phone, driving or even handling money (in any way). It’s a time to be with friends and family, enjoy boardgames and intimacy, walking in nature and reading – just to mention a few! I think it’s something anyone can enjoy, no matter what or if you’re religious.


  1. […] It’s Time for a Digital Sabbatical, by Courtney Carver at Be More With Less.  Here’s how strangely the world works:  I wrote the above blurb, then thought to myself, “I KNOW I read another great post about digital sabbaticals.”  So naturally I googled the phrase and remembered I’d read Courtney’s.  The first words of her post are, “I am reading Leo Babauta’s new book, Focus…” […]