Heading for vacation? Get unplugged!

Jeff Bernier |
By Jeff Bernier

Here’s the good news: Americans are finally taking more vacation time. According to the latest study by Project: Time Off, as a whole, we work-obsessed Americans increased our average number of vacation days to 16.8 per year in 2016, up almost a full day compared to the prior year. The bad news? While that’s not much time to begin with, a stunning 54 percent of US workers left vacation days on the table—totaling about 662 million unused vacation days and more than $66 billion in unused benefits. It seems we’re simply not taking time to relax and recharge. And even when we do sneak away, more and more of us use technology to stay connected to work with our smart phones, laptops, and tablets. It’s a sad scenario, especially knowing that being completely “unplugged” is precisely what our brains need to be more creative, more efficient, and more productive.

I confess that, like most people, unplugging isn’t easy for me. For the past few years, I’ve taken a week “off” from work to help at a summer camp for inner-city youth. These are kids who need mentors who can be 100 percent in the moment, listening to and focusing on no one but them. And while I thought I was doing just that, I recently realized I was fooling myself. During the kids’ rest time, I found myself going through email, checking in at the office, and keeping at least a part of my brain focused on work—even when I was back face-to-face with the kids. I’m sure Ashley, my wife, would happily chime in to say that I was just as guilty on family vacations and even my evenings and weekends at home.

Looking back, I can see my life was out of balance. When I was at work, I was thinking about home. And when I was at home, I was thinking about work. It wasn’t good for me, for my business, or for the people I love.

If you’re passionate about your work like I am, you probably balk at the idea of unplugging. After all, the more time you’re away from email, voicemail, and activities in the office, the harder it will be to catch up. Worse yet, it can feel like you’re dropping the ball, losing momentum, or both. It’s every high-achiever’s nightmare. But in this case, loving your work can create a very real danger of burning out. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the Strategic Coach program is that unplugging is a powerful tool to help clear your mind and create new space in your life for the things that really matter. It helps you become more physically fit, spiritually connected, and super creative. And while making an effort to schedule these “free days” feels pretty weird at first, being unplugged can be a game changer for your relationships, your business, and your life.

Trust me, it’s not easy. It requires putting aside the three things that exist specifically to help you succeed: your ego, pride, and need to strive. But for every business executive, business owner, and entrepreneur, the effort can be well worth the rewards.

Not sure where to begin? Start with these four guidelines:

  • Calendar—and honor—your free days. Commit to your free days and calendar them as conscientiously as you do client meetings. Being present requires sacrifice, but the stronger relationships and greater creativity you gain will be your reward. Whether you’re on a true vacation far from home, enjoying a “stay-cation,” or simply taking some scheduled time for yourself, make it happen.
  • Unplug completely. Is it difficult? Yes. But it’s doable. Put away your laptop, your cell phone, and your iPad and focus on where you are and what you’re doing. You’ll find your conversations will be deeper, your relationships will be richer, and your mind will be clearer. If you find that your mind keeps getting pulled back into work mode, go do something physical and exhilarating to help propel you back into the moment.
  • Rely on the skills of your team. Build a strong team to take care of the details when you’re away. If you don’t yet have a team already in place, start building one now. Take fewer free days for now if you must, but don’t use it as an excuse not to unplug at all. Taking that time to recharge just may be the extra creative boost you need to figure out a new, innovative way to grow your resources.
  • Develop a system. While unplugging means no phone or computer on your free days, that doesn’t mean technology can’t be at work to support you when you return. My own assistant is a valuable gatekeeper, filtering my many emails so I don’t come back to the office to a mountain of messages to deal with. She deletes the junk, responds to meeting requests, and places anything urgent into Evernote so I can hit the ground running. However you do it, create a structure to help you re-engage efficiently—so you can unplug completely.

Unplugging has been a life-changing shift for me. When I’m at home, I’m now fully in the moment with my family. When I’m at work, I’m fully engaged with my team and my clients. And no matter where I am, I find I’m more focused, more efficient and, yes, more creative. I urge you to try it—even just for a day—and write down how you feel afterwards. I can almost guarantee you’ll see a tangible difference in the quality of everything you do.

Happy vacationing!

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