Making OTG Days Work with Other People

No Cell Phones No Email

In the last few weeks I’ve gone public about my Off The Grid Days and it’s made all the difference.

I first conceived of the “Off the Grid Day” concept in 2005, and it worked.Over the years I’ve had to tweak, compromise, and sometimes abandon the concept entirely, because it simply doesn’t fit every professional or personal situation. But the most useful change I’ve made recently is to make it more public.

I tried a few half-way approaches. For example, I made a copy of my private work schedule template (eg. on Mondays I tend to do X, on Tuesdays I schedule Y) available to the people I work with. But it wasn’t effective. People tended to forget which days I was unavailable, and in a world where most people are available by phone, text, email or TwitFace most of the time, it’s not reasonable to expect other people to remember my schedule.

Worse still, people who weren’t “in the know” about radical modern productivity methods or even general business trends (such as email reduction, chunking and avoiding the loss of productivity caused by “multi-tasking”) tended to simply not understand or believe that a person could not check email or Facebook for a whole day. “You don’t even answer your phone when it rings?” (Apparently the “ringer off” and “power off” buttons on cell phones are merely decorative for some people.) There tended to be an assumption that “zero email or Facebook” really meant “I try to minimize how much I use them.” And the unfortunate side is that as a result, I often tended to break my rules because of that expectation.

What I realized is that the people who were the biggest problem for my OTG days–the most stuck in that mindset that everyone is expected to be online 24/7–were also using social media all the time. No big surprise, but it led me to realize that there was one effective solution: let them know.

Broadcasting Unavailability on Social Networks

This solution requires at least two steps.

  1. Automate posts to social media about non-availability. I have automatic messages scheduled to post to Facebook and Twitter letting people know I’m not available during this work day.
  2. Go completely off the grid. A single email, phone call, or post to Facebook will ruin the expectation that you’re unavailable. Suddenly it becomes “unavailable except” and everyone is sure their case is a perfect exception. It’s better to have a 5-hour OTG period that’s 100% distraction free than to have a leaky 24hrs of halfway OTG time with even brief email checks.
  3. Take full advantage of your OTG time. It can’t be a vacation. You need to be especially disciplined about committing to getting things done, for two reasons: because you won’t have the constant prodding reminders from people, and because not getting more work done essentially invalidates the concept. If you’re not at least twice as productive on OTG days, you’re not doing it right.
  4. Be sure to schedule time for email/phone/etc. The other side to OTG days to ensure that you don’t just become irresponsible with your communications is to schedule specific times for writing emails, returning phone calls, etc. I schedule blocks of several hours for email/phone time on my non-OTG days.

Ever since I started this technique, it’s been extremely effective. My estimate that the people most likely to expect to get hold of me when I’m unavailable are also most likely to be on social media happens to hold true especially for me, since so many of my business-related interactions happen on Facebook.

Most importantly, it’s given me the comfort of knowing that I’ve at least alerted people sufficiently to my absence (step #1), which means that I’m much more comfortable taking the method seriously and staying truly off the grid (step #2). And that means getting the full benefit of OTG.

Ironically, the most common side effect of the automated posts about going off the grid is that almost every single time, someone comments about how funny it is to be posting to Facebook about how you’re not going to be going on Facebook. But hopefully as people become more familiar with “write-only” social media interactions, such as posting to Facebook or Twitter directly from the operating system or a mobile app  without ever logging into the network directly, this won’t surprise people so much.