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Untouchable Days and the Real World: An Argument for the Realistic Worker

We can't go a day without seeing a self-help guru's revolutionary productivity "hack" that promises to double our creative output in a tenth of the normal time while adding another hour to the day. Frankly, it gets a little exhausting, and we feel bad for anyone who's putting real effort into following these tips.

The latest one we've seen promotes the idea of having an "untouchable day." It's a day where you turn off all desktop notifications, put your phone on airplane mode, and have no contact with the digital world, all to work on personal projects or larger tasks.

Let's be very clear. We think it's a great idea. Removing the beeping, buzzing, clicking, and flashing distractions of email, texts, calendar alerts, phone calls, and the dozen or so instant messaging apps should leave you to focus on work that really matters to you.

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But an untouchable day is a luxury most people can't afford. Neil Pasricha, the author of the piece, is secure in his career in an extraordinary way. Presumably, he will never struggle for a job again. Agents are clamoring to represent his writing, he's constantly scheduling paid speeches, has more books lined up to be written and sold, and recently launched a new podcast. If he isolates a day in his week to focus on creative productivity, there's no danger of him coming out of that isolation to find he's lost his many forms of income.

Your standard company struggling to piece together a living in an increasingly crowded market does not have that kind of financial or career security. A day completely cutoff from digital communication might allow them to work on their passion project or fill backorders, but when they reconnect, it's likely that they'll find they've been dropped by a client for not meeting a deadline, missed an opportunity to propose for an opportunity they've been gunning for, lost out on a big check because they didn't hear about a job change, or all three at once. Most of us have the same anxieties as Pasricha, where our constant notifications and distractions spread our attention far too thin. We just might lose our jobs if we indulge in the same detached solution.

For those of you who don't believe it could be so touch and go, we have an example from our time as a freelance employee. After waking up at our regular time (roughly 9 o'clock), eating breakfast, and taking a shower (which would bring us to 10 o'clock), we had emails and texts from two separate editors wondering why we weren't responding to our emails and texts.

We didn't lose the clients over that, but if they're stressing out about us taking an hour to get our day started, think of what would happen to our income if we were out of commission for a full 24 hours every week. Especially if, like Pasricha, we were working on personal projects in those 24 hours, not working on their assignments. Companies often start looking for new freelancers should one, single difficulty in scheduling pop up.

The untouchable day is pretty bad experience for all those people you’re working for or trying to work for. Regardless of size, every company has had at least one time where missing a call or email would have been disastrous for company/client relations. Clients don't give a flying crap about your personal schedule and productivity management quirks. If you're AWOL for a full day and then try to explain your absence by talking about untouchable days and personal creativity, you're going to get dropped faster than gravity itself could pull you back to Earth.

If you miss an order for 10,000 units of whatever it is you manufacture, coat, design, paint, write, draw, print, or otherwise produce because you saw a TED talk about the power of "untouchability," constant contact starts to look pretty sensible. That job order could be what makes you profitable for the month, especially if you're a smaller company.

Now, we did start this article by saying we like the idea of having an untouchable day. We still do. It's a wildly out-of-touch idea for the demands of the modern gig economy or for small companies taking it month to month or week to week, but, still, there's some merit that is worth not abandoning. With that in mind, we'd like to propose a modification to the untouchable day:

Make it shorter and go for distance.

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Obviously, or at least we hope it's obvious, peons like ourselves can't do the full 24-hours. So, let's shoot for an afternoon. Do all the scheduling, meeting, talking, coordinating, emailing, texting, or chatting you need to in the morning. You can even take that time to let them know you’ll be unavailable, so their expectations are properly set. Then take five or six hours in the afternoon for yourself. You can work on projects for clients or make it your own personal time, just make sure you're consistently working.

As for the distance, we're talking literally here. Put your cell on silent in a completely different room, on a different floor, if you have the option. You won't completely miss opportunities, but you also won't be immediately beholden to the constant pinging, dinging, and ringing coming from your smartphone. Putting some real space between you and your box of noise helps emphasize that it should be far out of your mind right now.

Once you're as successful or secure as Pasricha, you should start scheduling untouchable days. Again, they're a great idea and should be utilized if possible. Just make sure you're looking out for your financial well-being in the meantime and not putting the short-term win in front of the long-term gain.

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