SoftBank’s Ron Fisher on Shabbat: The Original Digital Detox

“There’s no one-size-fits-all way to unplug. What’s most important is that we, from company leaders on down, give each other the space to choose.”

Top SoftBank executive Ron Fisher on the importance of unplugging and how he makes time for his own digital detox:

At our recent global offsite, we welcomed Arianna Huffington to speak on the value of digital detox and what she calls the “collective delusion” that burnout is necessary for success. With 43 percent of Americans describing themselves as constant checkers of email, social media, and texts, and 18 percent listing technology as a significant source of stress, the price of our nonstop connectivity is clear. Arianna is on a mission to address this problem through her startup, Thrive Global. She isn’t alone. From celebrities like Kerry Washington to business leaders like Marc Benioff, the trend toward “unplugging” continues to gather steam.

At a lunch following Arianna’s presentation, her compelling case was the talk of my table. When a colleague asked for my thoughts, I realized I was a longtime observer of what could be called the original digital detox — the Jewish Sabbath, or Shabbat.

Day of rest
My personal connection to Shabbat began growing up in South Africa, where I was raised in a fairly observant family. Just as God rested after creating heaven and earth, we were taught, so should we — starting an hour before sundown on Friday, until the stars appeared Saturday night. In adulthood, I fell out of the habit. Then my wife and I enrolled one of our children in a Jewish day school, and we started observing the Sabbath with all five kids. The end of the week became a time to enjoy each other’s company without the distractions of work, phones, or TV. Today, our children are grown and living all over the world, but we still make time to talk before Shabbat every week.

Going offline
When I joined SoftBank in 1995, I had to explain to Masa why I would be completely offline for 25 hours at the end of each week. Though he did initially ask if “even texts” counted, he came to understand and respect my decision — and the rest of the company did, too. When negotiations on a major sale ran through the weekend, for example, I simply stepped out late Friday, and the team kept talks going until I got back a day later. No one missed a beat.

No doubt many businesses would have reacted to my absences with frustration rather than support. But at SoftBank, we understand our organization is not a monolith; we’re a team of individuals who respect each other’s differences. The same people who cover for me this Saturday may need my help next week so they can observe their own religious holiday, care for a sick child, or just take time for themselves. By relying on one another, we build trust — and a stronger team.

My weekly digital detox is also indispensable to my personal productivity and mental health. In a 24-hour global business environment where our mobile devices offer constant connection, I don’t think I could ever work as intensely as I do without a regular recharge. I might still think about work during Shabbat, but it’s not top of mind. I take the time for things I’d never fit in during the week, like reading The Economist cover-to-cover and to catch up on global events. By giving my mind the opportunity to shift focus, I can begin each week with new energy and perspective.

Personal choice
Of course, unplugging can take many forms beyond observing the Sabbath. It might be as simple as avoiding email over the weekend or blocking time on your calendar to go to the gym or meet your family for dinner. Designing your personal digital detox requires being realistic about what’s practical for you. I know it can be difficult to find the right balance, especially early in your career. Through my experience with Shabbat, I’ve learned that even in business, most things can wait 25 hours. But at times, you may feel you simply can’t afford to go offline, even if our company culture supports it.

I understand that pressure. I’ve watched my children and members of my team wrestle with it, and I’ve experienced it myself. While observing the Sabbath works for me (along with Arianna’s tip to leave my phone in another room at night), we must recognize there’s no one-size-fits-all way to unplug. What’s most important is that we, from company leaders on down, give each other the space to choose.

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