What I Learned about “Unplugging” at Laracon

Laracon is a developer conference held every year that attracts all sorts of people working in technology. Namely, people who code with Laravel, a framework created by Taylor Otwell (pictured with Braden above). This year, the conference took place in Chicago in July. While Sarah and Abbie held down the fort in Rome, Braden joined approximately 800 other attendees to see speakers and take in all there was to see that weekend.

After a couple weeks, Braden sat down to write about his experience, but one theme stuck out that he shared with the Romega team. Now, he shares it with you!

One of the things I love most about this conference is that the organizers aren’t afraid to bring in speakers that fall outside the realm of development. This year was no exception, as Jocelyn K. Glei spoke about some ways that our lives can feel overwhelmed and controlled by complexities. Technology can help ease the stress, but in many other ways, increases it. I had one solid takeaway from this conference that was immediately applicable to my life, and I think it’s beneficial for anyone to hear.

TLDR version is below, but enjoy the journey if you have some time…

A little background on some of my core values: I do not want my business or personal life to feel like they’re in a constant state of fire drills. Sure, I address priorities when they come, but for the most part, I should look forward to coming in to the office in the morning. Maybe I’ll have the time to collect my thoughts and organize my day. Maybe I’ll knock out a few important tasks that require extra brain power.

Alternatively, walking in and operating in a constant state of short deadlines causes shoddy work. Shoddy work is hard to support. The cycle would worsen the more product sold and the more there is to support. Instead, you have to take your time and make your product correctly before moving on to the next project.

This is nice in concept, but it takes a lot of effort to put this into practice. You’re struggling between moving the ball down the field rather than spending time on the required “boring things.” You really have to make a conscious effort to do things correctly. It’s worth it.

This begs the question: What kind of work environment has these types of values but also lets their workers be constantly bombarded with senseless chat rooms, emails, texts, Facebook…? When I first heard that…woah, it hit home.

For the remainder of the conference and the week since, I turned off the notifications on my phone. Emails and Slack now happen on my time. I choose when to open an app and respond to a message – not immediately after the ping of a notification.

Keep in mind, when I first do this, I’m in Chicago. My team is across the country moving projects forward and keeping customers happy. I couldn’t help but wonder, would this really be an OK thing? Would the company crash and burn if I’m not immediately reachable?

This is a rabbit trail of its own that may be best for another blog post, but it’s a top-down strategy that has to permeate the company culture: You have to enable your team members to become problem solvers. I have to make sure I’m not a bottleneck. I have to trust the integrity of all our team members. Basically, I have to hire great people and get out of their way. Turning off my notifications on a cross-country trip would be a true test to see if our company culture really supports what we say we believe.

I told my team Tuesday, August 7, that I’ve had notifications off for practically two weeks. No one had a clue. No conflicts arose. Nothing caught fire. Everything continued to move along at a comfortable pace, the jobs got done, and the mental gains have been so freeing.

I can much more easily compartmentalize my responsibilities and not be constantly reactive to the information coming in. I can proactively think about what’s next and what my next priorities are. I’m no longer driven by the latest notification. I control the ebb and flow of that information into my life. Weekends and time with my family look totally different. It’s easy to unplug because, well, I kind of already am.

I can comfortably leave my device behind because I’m not a slave to its notifications and pings to my life.

Unwelcome interruptions are no longer present, and that is a most welcomed change.

TLDR: Turning off notifications on my phone did not burn down my company, and in fact, made my life better.

If you use iOS, here are the settings you can use to make sure the notifications do not ping you but are easily accessible. This way, they are allowed on the notification tray but not on the lock screen. Swiping up on the home screen will reveal notifications setup like this, leaving it in your control for when you want to see them.

Optionally, you can also turn off badges. These are the little numbers that appear on the app icon.