Next time you’re sitting on a plane, have a good look around before take off. Chances are many of your fellow passengers will have their noses in their phones. Many so engrossed they have to be told multiple times to turn off their devices before they do.
The health benefits of going offline – even just for a week – are numerous. They can include lowering stress levels, improving mental acumen, and increasing creativity and productivity. “You’ll get your mojo back,” says Eileen Chadnick, a work/life coach and author of Ease: Manage Overwhelm in Times of Crazy Busy. “Your whole being will regenerate. Only when you completely disconnect, can the best of you re-emerge.”
But that’s often easier said than done.
Technology is such an integral part of our daily routines that it’s rare for employees not to check in multiple times with the office when they’re away on vacation and supposed to be winding down. And that’s despite the health benefits of giving your mind and your body a rest.
“Canadians tend not to take our vacations well,” says Chadnick, founder of Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto. “There’s so much insecurity about letting go and stepping back. We’re very poor at unplugging.”
Monica Ruffo, a former advertising executive who recently started her own organic supplement company, Well Told Health, would never dream of going dark. “I’ve never unplugged. Not when I worked in advertising and especially not since starting my new company,” she says.
“When you’re in a senior position there are people who report in to you and who depend on you. To not be reachable is putting a really big burden on them,” says Ruffo, who is also a single mother of two teenagers. “I’m not saying I want them to call me all the time. I don’t. But to me, [going incommunicado] is not fair. I believe that the freedom of one person begins when someone else’s ends.”
However, she’s quick to qualify that she makes a commitment to her family to minimize her phone/screen time.
Ruffo has developed a work-vacation balance system that keeps her colleagues, herself and her kids happy. She sticks to a strict schedule when she’s away. “I only check e-mails twice a day – midday and end of day. I also only answer the ones that require immediate attention. The others get filed away to deal with later.”
She also tries to stay off the phone. “I don’t usually welcome calls when I’m off, but if someone needs to speak to me urgently, I will try to schedule calls around 5 p.m., after our day’s activities and before supper, so it’s not quite as disruptive.”
If you must have a lifeline between you and the office, Chadnick has some advice on how to blend the two.
Establish boundaries with yourself first. Understand what you are willing to do when you’re away, and what you’re not.
Set clear and careful boundaries with your workplace and colleagues. If you’re not going to answer e-mails, let people know. Tell them that you are really trying to unplug, but if a situation escalates, to call you only at specified times. Tell your family, so they can help keep you accountable.
Delegate to people you trust. They will feel empowered because you’ve given them responsibility, and you will have peace of mind that someone else is keeping an eye on details that could have been overlooked.
Try to get most of the heavy lifting done before you leave so you don’t get buried with work when you get back. And if you can, stay off social media when you’re supposed to be lolling on a beach or playing in the pool with the kids. Ask yourself: Do I really need to document every hour of my holiday on Instagram?
Be mindful that this commitment requires discipline and discernment.
“We all feel very indispensable and sometimes we are,” Chadwick says. “But we’re so used to thinking everything is urgent and an emergency that we forget there are others who are extremely capable and willing to step up in your absence. It takes guts and self management to let go.”
Samantha Olivera, a partner at boutique branding and design firm the Workhouse Inc. in Toronto, makes work-vacation compromises, only checking e-mails once a day when she’s away, typically later in the afternoon.
“I try not to talk on the phone because I want to be there for my kids,” says Olivera, who has two girls, aged 7 and 5. “My check-ins are through e-mail and text – and you can do that undercover without the kids knowing.
“My husband and I both have our own businesses so we can’t take more than one week at a time. Our holidays with the girls are precious,” Olivera says. “They deserve their vacation as much as I do, and I want them to have my undivided attention as much as possible.”
Brian Scudamore also used to stay connected to the office. But 10 years ago, the founder of 1-800-Got-Junk? and other companies hung up an “On Vacation” sign, and completely pulled the plug during his holidays.
The 48-year-old Vancouverite asked his assistant to change his password before he left the office for a trip with his wife and three children so that he couldn’t check e-mail. He also didn’t call the office. And he’s never looked back.
“It’s something I’ve done for years, and it’s been fundamentally life-changing not to be bound to a cellphone and e-mails, and to not feel that pressure,” Scudamore says. “I come back refreshed, with more energy and better ideas. And believe it or not, my business survives without me.”
He’s encouraged his managers and 500-employee workforce to follow suit.
“We’re trying to push everyone in our company out of their comfort zone, and to go offline. We can’t force them but it’s a philosophy that’s been growing through the company organically. We want people to have work-life balance,” Scudamore says. “E-mail and social media can be like a drug. All-consuming. We want them to break out of that tunnel vision.
“The people who go dark in my company come back smile-ier, their productivity and creativity is better, and they just seem happier,” Scudamore says.
“I firmly believe you build a business to have a great life, not just to have a good business.”