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Reflections on a Power Outage

candleLast week, I was reminded of the approach of fall and winter fast behind it by an unexpected evening power outage. After using my cell phone as a flashlight to set up a candlelit dinner of peanut butter and jelly, I realized just how completely unprepared I was to get any work done under these circumstances: no power, no internet, and my cell phone battery almost on empty.

After last year’s epic storms, Jason shared his tips for surviving a long power outage. There are many practical problems with an extended power outage, including heat and food storage, that aren’t as pressing when the lights only dim for a few hours. Thankfully, my to-do list for the evening was filled with only somewhat-urgent things: no conference submission deadlines waiting at midnight or grades due back the next day. And after the initial panic over a lost day of work faded, I found the tech-free night was actually an opportunity to move forward on projects I normally neglect through focused time spent only with ideas and a notebook.

Earlier this year, several ProfHackers shared their thoughts on a day of rest.  A blackout–whether through the intervention of nature or a self-imposed shutting-down of electronics–can be an opportunity to take the type of break that buzzing phones and continual email-checking rarely enable. It can also help to refocus–particularly when approaching problems and projects that are otherwise stalled or seemingly unsolvable.

The power outage reminded me of how rarely I really eliminated outside feedback. Normally when I settle in to work, I set my cell-phone on mute, but I don’t turn it off. We have so many electronics around that are always-on, from the iPad’s persistent notifications to computers in sleep mode. Even the flickering of lights informing us of an incoming message play a role in distracting from a book, draft, or old-fashioned pen-and-paper brainstorming session. So here’s something I’ve added to my work sprints when ideas are moving slowly: turn everything off. All the electronics in the room, all the noise-emitting devices an office seems to collect, and certainly the cellphone.

Have you ever worked through a self-imposed blackout, or found ways to be productive during an unexpected power outage? Do you like to disconnect from your devices when you work?

[CC BY 2.0 Photo by Flickr User Jamin Gray]

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