You have to do it. You have to separate yourself from what you're passionate about. Especially if you're passionate about it. The consequences for remaining plugged in and active are significant. Well, they may be significant, it's hard to say given that we can't do A/B testing with our lives.
Why this is true deals with one of my favorite subjects: confirmation bias. Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes the phenomenon well in the The Black Swan. I've referred to this book several times. To quote Taleb, "the more information you consume, the less you know". And that happens because we tend to consume/recall/share/promote the things we already hold to be true. More input, more confirmation, less knowledge.
So how do you avoid it? Perhaps you can't, but I had to give it a try. So, for the last several weeks I've been experimenting with break taking.
The first thing I did was unplug from my professional online social network. That was hard. I kept thinking -- and was occasionally correct -- that I was missing important late-breaking industry news. It really was like trying to break an addiction. I wanted to open my RSS reader in much the same way I wanted a cigarette back in the days when I was addicted to those. And literally, after about two weeks, the cravings started to subside. No kidding.
Next I put together an eclectic reading list -- not a giant leap for me. I started down that path, but noticed right away that my mind was constantly drawing parallels between the development of online social systems and whatever it was I was reading. I can't say it was a total failure. Some of the things I learned from Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life (and continue to learn, I'm not done with it yet), may turn out to be useful. (Peer groupings, for instance, may have significant limitations, and don't actually match professional real world nets. They are a better fit for personal social nets -- fascinating.) In any event, I would highly recommend the book.
At best that got me maybe a third of the way there.
What helped the most turned out to be a couple of things I didn't plan in advance. Perhaps that's why they worked as well as they did.
The first was partying. Not the intoxicant part. The part about listening to all the other people -- all the other non-Microsoft, non-SN, just hanging-out around the holidays, people. It took an act of will. I was always tempted to talk work, and was often being led into those discussions. But on those occasions when I prevailed upon myself to just listen, the dramas defining other people's lives became clear and the drama of my own became less compelling. I was reminded of a book I'd read years ago called the The Drama of Everyday Life.
The second was almost an accident. I had the few days after New Years off. The kids were back in school. There was snow in the mountains. So I went snow shoeing. My wife didn't have the days off, so I went alone. I won't go any further with this, other than to point out that hours and hours alone in the Cascades, in the silence of the snow fall, is something I need to do more often.
However, I do have to go back to work, and I suspect confirmation bias won't be denied for long. Truth: I'm not confident I really got away from it at all. Nevertheless, the new perspectives I was exposed to while actively avoiding my standard inputs have changed my own. I glanced at my professional social net today. Some of the people there, people whose insights I've followed for months, seemed a bit too extreme from where I stand today. I seem to have moderated somewhat.
On the other hand, I looked at the site I'm responsible for and saw some of the compromises I've made. There, I feel more determined.
It may be that confirmation bias is just another way of saying that we give everything in our experience a role in our personal drama, in our personal story. We press it into service, and the fit is not always, perhaps not often, a good one. In the heat of the moment, of the moments, that's often hard to keep in mind. In the very least, time away can be a reminder.