Lessons Learned from My Disconnected Vacation

Reflections on my “Digital Cleanse”

Earlier this month, my wife Susan and I took a much-needed vacation. We went to the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa which is one of our favorite places on earth. We wanted a place where we could rest, reconnect, and refill our love tanks so we decided to take this vacation without the kids.

As a prerequisite to this time away, I decided to completely unplug from e-mail, social media and my i-Devices. I wanted to experience a complete “digital detox” to see what it would be like.

During the first forty-eight hours, I found myself compulsively trying to check my e-mail, RSS feeds and Twitter accounts. I have a habit of doing this when I am waiting for anything — at the car wash, stopped at a red light, standing in line, or basically any time I have more than a minute of “unproductive time.” It was really hard to resist this habit, but I caught myself, didn’t check, and eventually stopped checking.

The Good

Almost immediately, I saw my attention span increase. About the third or fourth day, I experienced a relaxed calm.  My wife and I did a lot of talking, reading and playing Words With Friends. I didn’t feel the usual hurry-up and-finish pressure I experience in my everyday life. It was great.

The Bad

Then I got back to work.  It was painful. Processing my email and RSS feeds literally took me over a week to catch up.  I was too busy to do my Weekly Review, too busy to process my email to zero, too busy to process my physical inbox to zero. I cancelled my 1:1s with my staff. I was scheduled in back-to-back meetings and I literally remember I didn’t have time to go to the bathroom.

Basically, I was in crisis mode attempting to triage what David Allen call the “latest and loudest.” It was hell.


Reflecting back, it was great unplugging after I got over the initial withdrawals but it was not worth the literally two weeks of pain I endured once I got back to work.  The stress was overwhelming.

Next time, I think I’ll attempt some kind of middle ground. I would do some kind of minimalist checking in and processing in an attempt to find  the correct balance to enjoy the benefits of unplugging without the pain associated with reconnecting.

What are your thought and experiences with a digital cleanse?

A great GTD Blog

We all fall of the GTD bandwagon once we get started.  Bill Meade has a great blog to help explore this.  Check it out.

Steve Jobs

I wanted to take a few days to reflect on Steve’s passing before I commented.  I’m pretty sure many people are getting tired of reading the same rehashes of Steve’s life and accomplishments.  I just want to say what he and Apple have meant to me.

It all started with the Apple II which I purchased to play games on.  I had no interest in computers or technology but that machine allowed me to play cool games that you couldn’t get anywhere else.  From that machine my interest in technology grew and I made it the focus of my career.  The Apple II led to a IIe when led to a IIe with a Microsoft Z-80 card that allowed me to run CP/M (Control Program for Microcomputers.)  The Z80 card had 64K of RAM and CP/M allowed me to run Wordstar in 80 columns no less!  I still remember the control commands that made the word processor sing.

That led to a Lisa which led to the Mac 128K which led to the Mac 512K and a 5Mb Profile hard drive.  I vividly remember when I thought 5Mb of storage would last me my entire life.  There was no way I could use all 5Mb…  Then there were many Macs like the Mac II, the Mac IIcx and the Mac IIci that were the mainstay of my computing existence.  Computing was fun and Apple led the way.

Then when Microsoft came out with NT 4.0 I thought I had the best of both words – A GUI and a robust multitasking operating system, so I converted the entire company off of Mac and onto NT 4.0.  Computing was all about business not fun.  The enterprise became the focus of the computing world.  Standardization and cost efficiency trumped everything else.  These were actually the “best of times” in that personal computers connected with local and wide area networks were supplanting larger centralized systems which dramatically drove down costs and gave end users more control then the old style of centralized computing.

Then as the WinTel duopoly gained dominance in the industry the excitement in computing dropped.  Each release of a new processor, OS or version of Office became a slightly better version of the previous version of computing.  Evolutionary but not revolutionary.

Then when Steve Jobs returned to Apple and he started innovating around his vision of the post-PC computing era things started to get exciting again.  The iPod was just another MP3 player – and lord knows I had lots of them – but it was a completely different experience.

Then with the iPhone the same thing happened.  I was a Blackberry user from the beginning.  I loved my Blackberry and rationalized why it was superior to the iPhone.  I mean seriously the iPhone didn’t even have a keyboard.  How could a serious business user seriously consider a phone without a keyboard?  Well, once I jumped on board with the 3S, I saw the value of the entire platform. The whole Apple ecosystem – hardware, software, iTunes – was synergistic.  I realized that email was just another app and that yes it is not quite as good as it is on the Blackberry but email was just one app and the the total value of all the apps made the slight drop in email productivity totally insignificant in the big scheme of things.  The total value proposition was overwhelming but the best part was it was fun!

The rise of the internet, mobility  and cloud services have just accelerated Steve’s vision of the Post-PC future.  When Apple released the iPad I thought why would I want one of those?  Who needs another computing device?  I have a laptop and a Smartphone so why would I need a tablet?  This view was based on the decade or so of Tablet PCs that I wanted to like but just kept on disappointing.   I predicted the iPad was going to flop.

Boy, was I wrong.  The iPad rocked my world!  It quickly became a critical part of my computing experience and the best part was it made computing fun!  Not only was it fun but it was synergistic with the iPhone so the skills you learned and the apps you used would transfer to the iPad.  This was a huge accelerator to the adoption to the iPad as a tablet device as opposed to the other tablets that followed.  Even Android tablets did not enjoy the same synergies when using an Android-based smartphone and a Android-based tablet.  Each vendor customized the UI to the point that there were no synergies.

As I sit here writing this post on my MacBook Air, I realize how much things have come full circle for me.  I started out all Apple, then spent the majority of my career on the WinTel model and now have returned to the Apple-centric computing world.  There is little coincidence in the fact that Steve Jobs presided over Apple during my early years of computing and when he left Apple, I gravitated to WinTel and then when he returned to Apple I returned.  Steve’s greatest gift was his ability to make computing fun.

Thank god for Steve Jobs because without him I doubt computing would be fun.

Welcome to GTD for CIO’s

If you are a CIO or any senior level technology executive then most likely you have a stressful life with so many demands on your time that there is literally not enough time in a day to get it all done.  I have found an extremely effective way to balance all of the commitments in your life and it is called Getting Things Done or GTD for short.

What’s the essence of Getting Things Done?  GTD provides the most systematic and effective way to manage all the commitments you have to yourself and others.  GTD’s key benefit is freedom – freedom from the sources of distraction and stress in your life.

David Allen’s first book Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress Free Productivity is the basis for my work-life management system that has evolved over the years.  I do not literally practice David Allan’s version of GTD but rather use the basic concepts and modify or adapt them to the reality of my life.  In this blog I hope to share what has worked for me – the tools, processes and methodology that make up GTD for CIOs.