Constantly connected. Eternally distracted. It’s the most challenging aspect of the lifestyle we’ve chosen as location-independent professionals. But the benefits of stepping away from work are numerous and well documented.
Perhaps you’ve tried to take a vacation already, and things didn’t go as you intended. Maybe you checked your company’s social accounts one too many times or got involved in an extended email exchange with a difficult client. Don’t beat yourself up. Try some of these strategies to disconnect and take a much-deserved respite from your labors—whether you’re heading on a two-week African safari or enjoying a simple “staycation” in a more familiar environment.
It may seem counterintuitive, but it can be easier to break away if you put some structure around your unstructured time, as this excellent piece from The Telegraph suggests.
- Start by planning your last day before your vacation. Which projects do you need to close out before then? Have you sent that invoice to your content marketing client? Do what you can to close things out before you close up shop.
- Take the same care in planning your first day back in your virtual office. How will you catch up on what’s been happening while you were “gone”? You can set up a debrief with co-workers or a check-in call with your client to quickly get you up to speed. Don’t give yourself too much to do on that first day; gradually ramp up your workload to avoid burnout.
Your plans will quickly unravel if you don’t take the time to set some boundaries with co-workers, managers, and clients in advance of your break. Make it clear you won’t be available to answer emails, texts, or Skype calls. Let them know when you’ll be back on board, and what you’ll be handling your first day or first week back. Set clear expectations and avoid unpleasant surprises.
Be held accountable
Boundaries and plans are far less useful if you don’t respect them yourself.
- Try making any bookings associated with your time off well in advance. It’s a win-win scenario as you’ll more naturally commit to your vacation once you’ve paid for it, and by booking early, you may be able to score some killer deals for yourself on airfare, accommodation, and hotels.
- Put the dates on your calendar. Set periodic alerts to remind you that your freedom grows closer by the day. It can create more of an imprint on your mind and also provide the incentive to slog through a difficult week, as there’s a greater goal at play.
- Know that family, friends, and significant others can play a pivotal role by holding you accountable to your plans. Enlist their help in honoring your intention to check out. They can provide reminders and positive reinforcement if you happen to slip up and answer a few work emails.
If all else fails, consider purchasing non-refundable flights and lodging, or at least arrangements where hefty cancellation fees are involved. Perhaps the potential hit to your pocketbook will be enough to incentivize you to keep your vacation plans.
You hold yourself accountable for meeting work-related deadlines—why not take your fun just as seriously?
Hack your brain
If your mind is on your money (in the form of unfinished work), try taking advantage of the way your squirrely brain operates. You may not be able to shelve those obsessive thoughts about the unfinished task, but you can capitalize on the fact that multitasking is a myth. Distract yourself with another task, and it’s hard for the old noggin to hold on to those worries about your client work.
So engage in a little “productive distraction”: choose vacation activities that actively engage your body and mind. It’s much harder to think about your inbox when you are halfway down a zipline or learning how to prepare local cuisine at a cooking class.
And learning has many other benefits, including the way it promotes intellectual humility. As Remi Allegre of Dogu states in Remotive’s blog: “Learning something totally new puts me in a position that I very likely cannot afford to be in at work: that of a beginner.”
This humility—an acknowledgment of your limited importance in the greater scheme of things—can potentially reduce anxiety about any work you’ve left behind. It’s a gentle reminder that your co-workers and clients can survive without you for a few days. Plus it may just make you a better team player when you return to work by improving your relationships with others.
Go off the grid
If all else fails, consider going off the grid, which is a scary concept in our ever-connected society. If extreme measures are too draconian for your tastes, try a limited test run: go for a 20-minute walk around your neighborhood—but leave your phone behind. (Yes, the backup you hide in your ankle holster, too.) Explore an unfamiliar district in your city without resorting to Google, Yelp, or Foursquare to guide your feet and your stomach. Embrace change and the unexpected.
If you’ll be taking a “staycation,” and you have a home office, close the door behind you when you’re off the clock. Better yet, put a lock on it and give the key to your significant other or housemate.
When you’re ready to move up to the next level of Total Disconnection (coming to a theater near you), challenge yourself to leave your phone turned off or in airplane mode for a day. (It may be helpful to let certain folks know you’re doing this, of course.)
Once you’ve built up a tolerance (or a fondness) for the disconnected life, keep this in mind when you book your vacation plans. It may not be a bad idea to choose activities or even destinations where you know you won’t have particularly good Wi-Fi available to you. It can help you resist the temptation to jump into the fray with an impatient client or a demanding manager.
You carefully manage your time when you’re on the clock. Respect your vacation time the same way. Remember that it’s not just about recharging before that big presentation or anything else related to work. It’s for your own physical and mental well being. Take a wholistic view—this is about your life, improving your time with family, friends, and loved ones. It’s one important step on the road to living a richly fulfilling (and well-rested) life.
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How do you unplug from work and recharge? Please share your thoughts in the comments below, or tweet @Workfrom using #untethered.