How Going Offline Helped Me Get Back to Online Business

It’s been a minute since I posted here.

I could tell you that I traveled the world, worked on some big secret project, or had another baby. All sound like exciting, legitimate reasons for disappearing for 5 months.

But the truth is that I needed a break from all the noise.

We live in a world of constant notifications, influx of information, posts, tweets, videos, ads, emails, and texts.

Our lives are spent looking at screens, whether we’re working on a computer, watching TV, or staring at our smartphones for an average of 5.5 hours a day (that’s a true statistic, by the way).

We’re “digitally caffeinated,” wired on the messages, entertainment, and information that are always at our fingertips.

And as a business owner I felt the pressure of not only keeping up with the noise, but contributing to it.

With the increasingly louder “hum” of the digital world building in the background, I was also trying to figure out what life looked like not only as a business owner, but as a new mom and a pastor’s wife.

I needed time to get my priorities in order, find a new rhythm, and gain some clarity about what Elle & Company would look like in this new season.

So I went dark.

How Going Offline Helped Me Get Back to Online Business - Elle & Company

I steered clear of social media.
I took a break from blogging and client work.
I let my assistant go.

I also spent more undistracted time with my husband and our little boy.
I started teaching aerobics again.
I created helpful habits for keeping my household in order.
I tackled personal projects that I had been putting off for too long.
I started eating healthier and sleeping more.
I poured more energy into offline friendships.

I feel happier and well-rested.

And for the first time in a long time, life doesn’t feel quite so “loud.”

By stepping away from the noise, I’ve been able to determine what I want Elle & Company to look like without the influence and pressure of others in this industry.

The internet isn’t totally bad. Without it, I wouldn’t have a business! The connectedness of this digital age has its fair share of advantages.

But it also leads to more anxiety, stress, and comparison. It interrupts our days, distracts us from more important things, and eats away at our time.

It’s a catch-22.

As a business owner, this online dilemma becomes even more confusing. It seems like we need to be constantly connected in order to succeed.

Is there such a thing as balance? Is it possible to reap the benefits of being online without becoming overwhelmed by (or adding to) the noise?

I’ve spent the past 5 months working through these questions, and I shared my perspective in a new Ellechat episode.

How Going Offline Helped Me Get Back to Online Business - Elle & Company

In this Ellechat, I share:

  • Why I “went dark” for 5 months

  • Why the noise of this digital age is especially difficult for online business owners

  • The 5 biggest benefits of taking a hiatus from the online world

  • How to set better boundaries online

More than anything, I hope this Ellechat sparks a conversation about how we, as online business owners, can use the internet to benefit ourselves and others without being consumed by the noise.

There are a few ways that you can access the content from this episode.

Watch the replay

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Listen to the audio

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[Coming soon! Check back for the audio in the next few hours.]

Read the transcript

Hello everyone and happy Monday! This is Ellechat, a weekly dose of practical tips and strategies to help you create a stunning first impression online. My name is Lauren Hooker, and it is great to be back with you all. I was looking back to see when the last Ellechat webinar was broadcast and it was over a year ago (which is hard to believe). So it's really good to be back with you.

Originally, Ellechat started as a Twitter chat almost four years ago. And although it was a lot of fun, I decided to change it over to a weekly webinar where I could share more content and share my screen.

Then, after a while, I started taking the audio from these webinars and made it into a podcast. So Ellechats have taken many different shapes and forms, but I never officially had seasons or really episodes (I mean, I guess they were episodes, I just didn't call them that). So I'm officially starting seasons and we're going to call this episode one.

Ellechats also used to be an hour long, but I’m shortening them to 20 to 30 minutes. Smaller doses, but still jam-packed with helpful information.

Why I “went dark” for 5 months

So I’m back to Ellechats, but I’m also back to business in general after taking a 5-month hiatus. My main reason for taking a break from business (and the online world, in general) was being overwhelmed by the noise. And when I say “noise,” you probably know what I’m referring to: notifications, post tweets, emails, ads, texts, just all of this online digital noise that often overwhelms.

The noise tends to interrupt our conversations and our tasks and our free time and distracts us from actually what's happening right in front of us. I've found that it's hard to be fully present with all of this noise. I found myself (and still continue to find myself) instinctively reaching for my phone when there's a lull in conversation.

There’s an influx of information out there nowadays between blogs and webinars and podcasts and especially social media. Everyone has an opinion and they’re more than willing to make their opinion known.

You’re also at the mercy of what others are posting. You get on Facebook to post something in a group, but you’re quickly distracted by a polarizing post that frustrates you and throws your day off.

We keep up with hundreds of mini reality TV shows on Instagram stories, knowing a lot of random information about strangers that we wouldn’t know otherwise.

I don’t remember where I heard this, but someone used the term “digitally caffeinated” to describe this generation. I thought that was an interesting, accurate way to describe it. And I know for me that I got the buzz.

Why it’s especially difficult for online business owners

But it seems that I’m not the only one who’s starting to feel overwhelmed by being so connected. For business owners, it’s especially hard to take a break from the noise.

The internet is a blessing and many of us wouldn’t have a business apart from it. It allows us to work from home. It allows us to reach more customers and clients and network with people. It can be a great thing.

But as business owners, we also feel this pressure to have to be on every single platform. We have to post every single day, multiple times a day. We have to be replying to comments, following along with other people and networking and keeping up with everyone else in the industry to see what they’re doing.

We also feel pressure to keep up this image that we have it all together. Our photos have to be perfectly curated to create a great first impression. We also see what other people are doing and an unhealthy comparison begins to take shape.

It becomes an echo chamber; there aren’t any new thoughts or ideas or new methods or ways of doing things. It all starts to jumble together and it all seems the same.

But I think one of the most dangerous effects of all this noise is that we start to measure our success by it. We think that success looks like more like, shares, posts, and comments about our business.

So I wanted to ask those of you tuning in live: What is your noise level at the moment on a scale of 1-10?

Before I “went dark,” I was approaching a 10.

I wanted to host this Ellechat and start a conversation on this topic, because I feel like it isn’t often talked about. Industry experts encourage you to be on social media, but how do you deal with it personally? I want to share my experiences and some thoughts on how stepping back has been helpful for me, and also what it might look like to set more boundaries.

Because you can’t totally escape your inbox or your phone. But how can you live in this online world without being consumed by it?

I was at the point of being consumed by it. I’ve been thinking through this topic for a long time, a lot longer than 5 months ago. It was weighing on me before I had my son 18 months ago.

At that time we had just moved to Florence, South Carolina to start a job as an assistant pastor and enter into full-time ministry. Then our son came along, and the noise became even more agitating. It got louder and louder until 5 months ago. I reached a point where I felt like I needed to step away from the online world.

I never really planned to go dark and escape everything. It started with social media. I realized that every time I was on Instagram or Facebook, I would feel frustrated and kind of down. I never felt happy or content after spending time on social media.

And then Instagram came out with that feature where you could set a time limit on how much time you spend on the app, and I started to see how much time I was actually wasting on the platform.

I started to challenge myself to stay off social media on Sundays. I don’t do any work on Sundays and we try to rest on that day, so I thought it would be a good time to just keep away from social media. Then I started to step back more and more, and I realized that I felt better when I steered clear of them. So I started deleting the apps.

The key was replacing the time I was spending on the apps with something a little bit more productive. Because I don’t know about you, but each time I picked up my phone I seemed to automatically find my way over to Instagram right away. I had to retrain myself not to go into those apps and do something else instead.

I started listening to books on Scribd or I’d do some housework or I’d study for my aerobics certification or I’d start loading groceries on Instacart.

So that’s how it started. And then I started pulling away from emails. I used to delete a bunch of newsletters and marketing emails that I no longer wanted to receive.

And then I started limiting my phone time. I started keeping my phone in the kitchen while I was at home so I could be fully present while I was playing with my son or doing things around the house. I’d keep my phone in my purse while I was hanging out with other people, rather than in my pocket or out on the table.

The more I started to pull away from the screen, the less noisy things became and the better I started to feel personally and just about business in general.

One resource that was super helpful for me during this time was the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.

My husband came across this book (I think someone recommended it to him) and we listened to it on a long car ride, and it was excellent. It made me more aware of the impact that all of this noise is having on our culture and it made me more aware of how it’s been impacting my own life. Newport shares a lot of practical strategies for how to handle this online world without being ruled by it. He talks about the importance of solitude and how we’re losing solitude by the constant notifications and interruptions. We’re losing a lot of face-to-face interactions, too.

So as I went dark and stepped away from all the noise, I picked up on several benefits. I’m just going to touch on some before I talk about setting boundaries.

The 5 biggest benefits of taking a hiatus

1 | Vision

The first benefit was vision. I was having a hard time envisioning what Elle & Company could look like in this new season of motherhood without being able to pour 40+ hours into my business each week. I was so busy trying to keep up with others in the industry that I couldn’t objectively and realistically set goals for my business. The time away helped me put my priorities in order and see what I could cut out and what wasn’t necessary.

2 | Schedule

I was also able to figure out what a realistic schedule could look like, and I realized I have a lot more time than I thought I did. So much of my time was wasted on distractions online. I have a friend, Kendall, who always talks about the lie of saying you don’t “have time” to do something. The truth is that we do have time. Everyone has time, the same amount of time. It’s just that we choose to spend it on some things and not on other things. And for me, I’m realizing that I do have time, and I’d rather not spend it on things that are distracting. I’d rather play with my son or write a newsletter or clean my house instead of scroll through strangers’ photos on Instagram.

3 | Focus + productivity

I also found that I’m much more focused and productive. I don’t know if y’all feel this way, but with the constant information and notifications, I was having trouble focusing on one thing at a time. As a woman and a mom, this is already the case because I constantly have a million things I’m trying to keep up with. But I feel like the noise of screens and apps and all those things make it even worse.

At first, when I was pulling away from all the noise, I realized I couldn’t focus. I’d sit down to read and my mind would be hopping around. But the more I’ve pulled away from the noise, the more I’ve been able to actually focus on one task at a time. I’m a lot more productive without the pins and notifications.

4 | Originality

And this next one was probably the biggest benefit of going dark for a while: Originality. I think you need solitude in order to be creative and original in your business. When you’re constantly in this online echo chamber, keeping up with what everybody else is doing, you become heavily influenced. When you’re by yourself and away from other influences, you come up with unique, original ideas. And those are what set your business apart. The biggest things that have helped Elle & Company in the past have been when I’ve stepped aside from what everyone else was doing and tried something new. This is especially true for those who are in a creative field.

5 | Personal benefits

And then there are the personal benefits that have come from stepping aside. I’ve realized now, more than ever, that your personal life overflows into your professional life. If your personal life is out of whack and you don’t have any systems for staying organized and you’re unable to keep up with things, then you often aren’t able to do the same in your professional life and in your business.

By taking a hiatus from the online world, I’ve been able to be more present with my husband and my son. I’ve been able to pour more time into offline relationships. I’ve been able to create routines and systems for simple things like housework (which sounds kind of silly, but it’s transformed our home). I have a system for meals and cleaning and tasks that have to get done but often fall by the wayside.

I’ve been tackling projects that I had been putting off for a long time. I picked up hobbies. I started teaching aerobics and reading more. We go on a walk almost every day around our neighborhood and take our son to the park and we don’t check our phones and it’s awesome.

All of these personal things have been helping me do better in this space right here because I am more organized and I am more productive.

I have way more motivation for business. My motivation for business was waning. I was not excited to write blog posts and newsletters and work with clients and do the things in this space, and my time away has helped me get that motivation back again of helping other business owners. And again, that goes alongside vision like I talked about a second ago.

I also have more head space. I'm able to think clearly about business things now. And if I'm honest, I've been a little nervous to jump back into this space and come back to the online world.

I’m still debating whether or not to go back to social media, especially with my Illustrator Basics launch coming up. I know Instagram and Facebook could be helpful, but I want to be good about setting boundaries there, too.

Setting boundaries

Speaking of boundaries, what could this look like moving forward? Do you have to go dark in order to reap the benefits I just listed?

I don’t think you do. I think it comes through setting boundaries. This could look like a bunch of different things for you depending on your business and your audience, but here are some things I’ve come up with and thought about implementing, myself.

1 | Focus on one or two different outlets.

You don't have to be on every platform. I don’t know where we came up with the idea that we needed to be everywhere, or where that pressure comes from.

I’m putting a lot of emphasis on my newsletter now and going back to these Ellechats. That’s where my audience is the most engaged and it’s been effective in the past, so I’m going to give it a go again.

If you’re on social media, consider how you’re currently using it. Is it actually effective for your business? Are you seeing conversions from it? Are people purchasing your products and booking your services as a direct result of what you’re posting on Instagram or Facebook. If not, you might want to reevaluate.

A good example of someone who focuses on one or two outlets is Paul Jarvis. He’s one of my favorite creatives to follow. He’s super unique and very creative and doesn’t do what everyone else does, and I think it’s refreshing. He puts a lot of energy into his newsletter (where you can’t see likes and shares), and I enjoy seeing his emails pop up in my inbox each week. I read every single one. It just goes to show you that you don’t have to be on every platform to be successful.

When you pull back and give yourself some room to be creative, you can approach things differently. And that’s what actually sets you apart.

2 | Use a scheduling tool like Buffer.

That’s old news, but I think it’s worth mentioning again. You don’t have to be on Instagram to post on Instagram; you can schedule it out.

3 | Schedule time to post and reply.

If I do go back to Instagram, I’ll set a timer for posting and following up with comments. I don’t trust myself to just get on and get off and do what I need to do because I often get distracted. So setting a timer would be super helpful.

4 | Limit your screen time.

And the amount of information you’re taking in. Unsubscribe and unfollow accounts that are unhelpful. Delete apps. Maybe even use something like the Moment app, which tells you how much time you’re spending on your phone, which apps you’re spending the most amount of time in, how many times you pick up your phone every day (which is often a bit sobering). Use apps to help you manage your time on your phone (again, going back to the Digital Minimalism approach of using digital tools to help you and not consume you).

5 | Replace the time you would have spent buying into the noise.

It isn’t enough to stay away from it completely; figure out what you’re going to do instead. Instead of spending time checking Instagram, being on Facebook, or even reading the news (my husband quickly gets sucked into that), figure out how you’re going to replace that time.

6 | Consider what you’re posting and contributing.

A question I’ve been asking myself throughout this hiatus: Am I contributing to the noise? Is what I’m sharing actually going to be helpful, or is it just adding to everything that’s already out there? I hope I’m never adding to the noise. I want to be helpful.

Again, I’m still figuring out what this balance looks like, but I wanted to start the conversation and challenge the status quo. I think we’ve gotten so used to being “digitally caffeinated,” and yet we’re all overwhelmed by it.

I would love to hear your thoughts on it. Feel free to leave comments here on this blog post! What’s been helpful for you? How have you set boundaries?