Paul Jarvis’ Digital Sabbaticals and Rats: A Commentary

A Social Sabbatical, Article by Paul Jarvis, posted January 4, 2015.

Paul Jarvis is a writer and creative who lives in Victoria, B.C. and he’s also an in-demand website designer. I’ve followed his newsletter for a few months now. I can’t remember how I found his work, but I’m glad I did. I enjoy reading his weekly dose of wit and ideas focused mainly on creativity. I also like that he is a local guy.

In December, Mr. Jarvis had put his readers on notice that he would be taking a break from the newsletter until January. At the time I thought, “Good for you, Paul. Everyone should take a break once in a while.” As the month of December quickly flew by, I had forgotten that he was on a digital sabbatical. Just before this January 4 letter arrived I wondered what happened to him. I missed his weekly letter with its encouragement for those of us that make art for a living.

In his article, Mr. Jarvis describes what happened during his experiment to leave social for two months including his newsletter for the month of December. While he is still contemplating his experience, it seemed he has found some important benefits to his break.

Three comments in the newsletter stood out for me:

Free Time to Think

What I liked about my experiment to take a long break from social was that it opened up space.”

Paul is correct in that in this day and age, there is so much chatter and intrusion into our lives. My pet peeve is pop-up ads on websites which to me is the epitome of intrusion into reading space. Then we go onto social media sites and invite instrusion into our head space. It is clichéd to say but it is a case of “garbage in, garbage out.” Although if Mr. Jarvis finds that rats invade his head space when it becomes quiet, who am I to argue that perhaps he needs the distraction.

Outside of Our Control

It’s all outside of my control because I’m passively letting whatever stimulus floats into my tiny screen affect me.”

The late Stephen Covey points out that we always have a choice: we can pause between the stimulus (what we see on our screens) and our response (how it affects us) and in that pause, select our response. For me, it is a constant battle to remember to pause before reacting to what I read on social media particularly when we live in a world that makes it sooo easy for us to quickly react. I imagine that Mr. Jarvis found it a relief to not feel compelled to respond to every post that affected him.

There is also a choice to be made when we let ourselves get sidetracked by making comparisons to others. Again, I have to remind myself to avoid comparisons. Others may be doing similar work to me and I love seeing the success of others, but I am still doing my own thing and I’m just getting starting. Everything has its season and there is more than enough audience, and love, to go around.

The Water Cooler

“When you work for yourself, social media is almost like a water cooler.”

I’d be a lonely hermit if it wasn’t for email and FaceBook. While I limit myself to email once a day and FaceBook once a week, I would feel isolated without that contact with friends and family. The best contact though is face to face. You remember how that works, going for a coffee or a walk with a real human. I remind myself to make contact with others outside my home at least once a week. We are, after all, social creatures.

I’ve read many other authors who do regular digital sabbaticals either on weekends or actually take a whole month off like Mr. Jarvis did; Tammy Strobel for one and Leo Babauta for another. Tim Ferriss may have even popularized the concept in his book The 4-Hour Workweek
(Associate Link) when he wrote about low information diets and cultivating a selective ignorance. Mr. Ferriss’ suggestion may be one of the best ideas I’ve found for building creative space and energy.

I am starting to be more active on social media as I work on developing an audience for my work. Looking ahead at what might potentially become a large maintenance project, I worry about the work involved in keeping up a connection with the community or providing enough stimulating information to keep the community active. I have to balance that commitment to community to the commitment I have to my writing. I can certainly foresee where a regular digital sabbatical will become attractive.

On the other hand, I worry about losing momentum in the same way I started to miss Mr. Jarvis’ letter. As with all decisions, there is a risk to benefit ratio to consider. At this point, I am still building so it may take a while to get to where I’ll consider a digital sabbatical as a choice I want to make.

Mr. Jarvis concludes that “… the space to focus is a truly wonderful thing for a creative mind.” I could not agree more. Creativity comes from the opportunity for the mind to pull different pieces of ideas together to create something new if not necessarily unique. So how else can we let the mind work, if we don’t give it room to breathe.

If you are an artist, no matter the medium, I would highly recommend you sign up for Paul Jarvis’ weekly newsletter before he decides to go on another social sabbatical.

Cheers, Catherine  Location: Saltspring Island, BC
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