A week with no clients and email

This coming December I am taking a three-month sabbatical. It's a big deal for me. I can't imagine what it would be like to have three months with no clients, no email, no professional commitments. 

I can't imagine and I don't want to imagine. I want to be prepared. So to get ready for the big ride I decided to put some training wheels on and take a one-week sabbatical per month. 

The idea is that for this one week each month I will not coach clients, not schedule professional commitments and most of all – not send or respond to email. I figure that by December I will have proper training and some insights about how to make the most of the coming three months off. 

Last week was my first practice sabbatical week. I set up an auto response to my email that read the following:

Dear _______, 

During the week of April 22-29 I am taking a one week personal sabbatical. I intend to devote time to personal projects and other ideas that have been awaiting my attention.

To avoid returning to an overflowing inbox and playing catch-up for days, all incoming emails this week will be irretrievably deleted. In other words, I will NOT receive your message. 

Please don't take this personally. I do really want to hear from you.

If you feel your message is still relevant after my April 30 return, please email me again later. If it is uber urgent call me at 323-202-4600. 

I look forward to hearing from you again.  

I told all my clients the same thing and cleared my schedule completely. It was actually kind of weird to look at my diary and see this large gaping hole of nothing for an entire week:  exciting and a bit scary at the same time. 

The week turned out to be a fantastic, yet stressful experience. I realized I have a lot of preparation to do before the big sabbatical coming in December especially in how I use email in my life. For me to be able to take three months off and make the most out of them I would have to get a few things in shape. 

I realized that I am addicted to checking email. And it is worse than I realize. The urge to visit my inbox was a big distraction for the first two to three days. Having it available on my computer, ipad and iphone made it hard to escape so I deleted my email account for that week. Removed email from my computer and all other digital gadgets. Even if I wanted to check for new messages, I didn't have immediate access. (I suppose if you want to stop drinking you want to remove all alcohol from the house, right?)

I've taken vacations before where I didn't check email for weeks but this was different. On vacation we know that we will read the emails we miss when we return but this time, the emails I miss I would miss forever. That was stressful.  

Experiencing my addiction to email, I decided to use the week as a detox, healing and recovery program for myself. Suddenly, the sabbatical became a social experiment. What kind of a week could I have without email in it?

In my coaching, I work with many clients who want to make changes in their lives. They want to change habits that sometimes become addictions in disguise. From spending too much useless time on Facebook to bad clients.  Although mentoring is not an addiction recovery program, I've managed to have a fair share of experience in helping people change habits and remove addictions. I learned that many addictions are a result of two things missing in our lives. We are addicted to things that are bad for us when: 

1. We are not present

2. We are not creating 

My addiction to email was staring me in the face and made me ask myself: how present am I in my life and what am I creating in my life right now? Healing this addiction to email became the theme for my sabbatical week - "Get present and create."

Since email wasn't occupying any space or time and I wasn't seeing any coaching clients this week I decided to create a new experience for myself. This week wasn't going to be a vacation; it became deliberate time for slowing down, recharging and creating.

Getting fully present took a few days of withdrawal. The urge to check email came up about every 10 to 15 minutes. It was hard to focus on a task at hand without getting distracted by the urge to hit "get new mail".  This had to stop. 

The urge became an alert. Every time I felt like checking email I saw it as an indication that I was not present. I took a minute, stopped, breathed deeply and let the urge get soaked up by the breathing, go through my system and continue with what I was doing. Deep breathing for one minute helped me get present and focused. That also slowed me down.

By the third day of the sabbatical I was more focused than ever before. The urge still came up but it wasn't in control—I was. I looked at the urge straight on and told her "Nice try". I smiled and kept on going. 

The space that opened for me as a result of no email or no clients for one week motivated me to create more every day. I got a lot done AND I had a ton of time off to enjoy things I always say I want to do and never get to. I got creative. I got inspired and I returned this week recharged and engaged. My clients will benefit greatly from my clear headedness and focus and level of happiness. 

I am not ready to give email up completely but knowing that the world didn't end for the week I did give it up is a good thing. People actually picked up the phone and called me. I had real conversations. That was refreshing. 

Next month, I recover from FaceBook.

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