Why Successful People Unplug—or Should

When I take a vacation, I really do try to leave work behind (sometimes I’m even  brave enough to leave my laptop at home). But like most people, I can’t resist the urge to check e-mail. Next thing I know, I find myself pecking long-form answers to work-related questions on my phone. And it’s a downward spiral from there.

Once, I sent a quick text to my editor saying: “Call me, I’m around if you want to discuss.”

Except thanks to autocorrect: the text read: “Call me, I’m aroused if you want to discuss.”  

You can imagine what happened to my stress level at that point. And that’s the hazard of working when you’re allegedly off duty. You’re inefficient and only half paying attention. Plus, “When you don’t unplug, you’re more likely to return tense and grumpy, which not only has a negative impact on you but also your coworkers.” says Jim Bird president of WorkLifeBalance, which provides productivity training and analysis to businesses.  

Yet about half of working Americans stay semi-available when they are supposedly away.  

A study out of Tel Aviv University confirms that this isn’t such a great idea. The researchers found that people who stay electronically hooked up to the office are less likely to receive the real benefits of a vacation—what they call “respite effects”—and are more likely to report feeling burned out, even if they’re skipping stones into the Mediterranean between smart phone check-ins.

Here, some easy ways to power down—plus a few ways to reconnect strategically, when you absolutely must.

1) Get Over Yourself
Instead of assuming your organization will fold in your absence,  establish what’s expected of you (and them) while you’re out.

In case there’s a crisis, leave a deputy in charge and a hotel number (not your phone).

Don’t simply tell people to call if they need anything. The truth is, they shouldn’t count on you. “Instead, go with something like: ‘Don’t call me unless the building is burning down’,” says Bird.

2) Plan Ahead

Your company may know you’re headed on vacation, but be sure to share your plans with regular contacts and clients outside the company, starting, of course, with the out-of-office message on your work email and phone. Give people a point person to contact in your absence, you’ll decrease the likelihood of vacationus interruptis

Get more stress-relieving tips about how to unplug when you’re the boss.

3) Maintain Radio Silence
With all that digital technology at your fingertips, it’s hard to stay away. You may tell yourself you’re not going to weigh in on the latest office crisis, but even if you’re just checking in to get the gossip, you’re essentially opening the floodgates. If people know that you’re online, they may try to keep you in the loop in more ways than you’d like.  

4) Set Office Hours
Of course, there are circumstances where going off the grid is impossible. If that’s the case, establish times when you’ll check in each day. (Confirm that you’ll have the necessary cell or wifi coverage beforehand so you don’t end up running around looking for a Starbucks in Kuala Lumpur. There’s no faster way to lose that relaxed vacation feeling.)

Focus only on critical projects or deadlines, not loose ends that your deputy can handle.

Finally, to make sure these check-ins don’t bleed into the rest of your day, Bird suggests telling yourself: “I’m going to be in meeting mode for one hour, and as soon as its over I’m going back into vacation mode and I’m done thinking about work.”  Then get back to the beach, girl!

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