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The College Assignment That Changed My Life

Updated: Feb 8



It’s currently the summer before my freshman year of college. As part of the orientation process, the school assigned all incoming students a couple of homework tasks to complete. Among them was an assignment that caught my attention, called the ‘24 hour eFast’.


The prompt was as follows:


Before arriving [on your first day], choose a 24-hour period. Note the time and date in your handwritten (not typed or spoken) log, and then record some details of your eFast. Begin your eFast after you have turned off all digital communications devices and social media that you have access to.


During your 24-hour eFast, you will not text, email, or access the Internet. You will not post to, or view, social media, gaming sites, etc. Likewise, you will not use cell phones, computers, pads, tablets, or any other Internet-connected device (FitBit, Apple Watch, etc.), which also means no content streaming (Netflix, etc.) of any kind. Most televisions, phones, and radio are digitized, so you may not use them either.


During the fast, however, you may read as much of any non-electronic media—(print) books, articles, newspapers, magazines, etc.—as you wish.


As your day evolves (or devolves), please write down some of the changes and challenges (or opportunities) you experience—in your routine, your expectations, your social relations, and your mindset. Include any consequences of not using digital media—both positive and negative. Throughout your 24-hour eFast, stop to record your experiences briefly in your Log. On the first day of class, you will share highlights from your Log with your peers.


First Impressions


I’ve known the perils of social media and constant connection for a while now, and after reading books like Cal Newport’s ‘Digital Minimalism’ recently, I considered myself well-versed enough to take on something like the 24 hour eFast quite effortlessly. I was wrong.


I don’t normally check my phone first thing in the morning, but I typically turn on some type of content very soon after waking up in the morning to avoid the boredom that comes with certain tasks like making coffee, brushing my teeth, etc.


Related to this, I recently read a book called ‘Mastery’ by George Leonard in which he posits that we shouldn’t rush through the mundane but unavoidable tasks in our day, because they will end up comprising most of our lives in the end and it’s foolish to live a large proportion of our lives in a state of distress. He says we should instead learn to enjoy and even cherish these tasks.


So when the time came during the day of the eFast to perform some of those typically uneventful tasks, I took a deep breath, smiled, and proceeded to do them as diligently as I could. There was a bit of a strange sense of panic as I took in the silence of the morning, devoid of any content like I was used to, but quite surprisingly, I did find myself enjoying being alone with my thoughts, and a couple of hours flew by before I knew it.


I sat for a morning cup of coffee with my parents and the quality of time we spent together was much improved as a result of not having any electronics on me. Perhaps more importantly, I was able to be fully present in the moment, because there was no sense in thinking about my phone if I couldn’t check it later anyway.


During the Day


Something I took note of repeatedly was that eliminating tech for the day left a lot of free time on my hands for the day, and I would have to find a way to fill it.

It was almost a revelation of sorts to see just how much time I actually had, and that it was being wasted by aimlessly checking my phone and email all throughout the day.


I wrote down that if I were to adopt a modified version of this eFast into my daily life, I would be well-served to cultivate a craftsman-like hobby of some sort that doesn’t involve electronic connection. Something that can be done offline.


It’s also worth noting that I went out to a mall for a couple of hours as a way to pass the time, which I don’t normally do too often, and in the car ride there and back, I avoided all sounds like audiobooks and podcasts which I normally listen to in the car, and just enjoyed the company of those present with me. Even in moments of silence, being alone with my thoughts and free of constant input from audiobooks or podcasts was really enjoyable.


Were there any negatives?


Sure there were. After all, most technologies were created as a more sophisticated way to solve certain problems, so when that technology is removed, those problems arise.


Some tasks like finding nearby restaurants or navigating around without a GPS were made unnecessarily difficult.


Furthermore, some genuinely productive tasks were ruled out of my day because they involved the use of technology in some form or another.


Overwhelming Positives


There were a couple of things that stood out to me as invaluable takeaways from the eFast.


  1. I gained A LOT of free time during the day

  2. Being in a state of solitude with my thoughts allowed me to think through a lot of things, and that’s a very valuable but exceedingly rare practice nowadays

  3. I realized the value of cultivating craftsman-like offline hobbies


Changes I’ve made as a result of this assignment


The first hour after waking up involves no technology at all. -- This is my time to be alone with my thoughts and reflect on what I’m doing well, what I’d like to do better, and whether or not I’m happy doing the things I’m doing.


I use the first half of the day to complete my work for the day. -- This might involve technology, but only what’s needed to complete the work. No phones, no email checking, and no content/media consumption.


After all my work for the day is done, I pull my phone out of the drawer and check for any important messages, and check my email as well. -- I realized that I don’t necessarily have to be reachable at all hours of the day. Abstaining from the constant connection we’ve all created in our lives allows for a deep and uninterrupted focus on the things that really matter.


I listen to audiobooks and podcasts for the rest of the day, until an hour before I go to bed, at which point I plan out my work for the following day then wind down and get ready for bed.


Your turn -- I challenge you to try the 24 Hour eFast


Here’s the prompt from the assignment again, and I really recommend you give it a try. I’ve found that we’re often quite terrible at judging our daily habits until we distance ourselves a little bit from them, and this 24 hour eFast is an excellent way to do that.


Before arriving [on your first day], choose a 24-hour period. Note the time and date in your handwritten (not typed or spoken) log, and then record some details of your eFast. Begin your eFast after you have turned off all digital communications devices and social media that you have access to.


During your 24-hour eFast, you will not text, email, or access the Internet. You will not post to, or view, social media, gaming sites, etc. Likewise, you will not use cell phones, computers, pads, tablets, or any other Internet-connected device (FitBit, Apple Watch, etc.), which also means no content streaming (Netflix, etc.) of any kind. Most televisions, phones, and radio are digitized, so you may not use them either.


During the fast, however, you may read as much of any non-electronic media—(print) books, articles, newspapers, magazines, etc.—as you wish.


As your day evolves (or devolves), please write down some of the changes and challenges (or opportunities) you experience—in your routine, your expectations, your social relations, and your mindset. Include any consequences of not using digital media—both positive and negative. Throughout your 24-hour eFast, stop to record your experiences briefly in your Log. On the first day of class, you will share highlights from your Log with your peers.


I hope this was a worthwhile read or listen for you.