Unplugging: why and how

I’m a big believer in taking at least one unplugged vacation per year: no computer, no work phone. I think that it’s important for a few reasons. Such as:

  • Work gets a lot of my undivided attention when I’m not on vacation, and my family needs and deserves some undivided attention too.
  • The mental break always helps me feel invigorated about my current work, and always gives me new perspectives on my work-related goals for the future.
  • It keeps me from developing an inflated sense of my own importance. If I start to feel that my clients really cannot live without me for a week, I’m the one with the problem.
  • It forces me to plan financially for the time off; I use my business savings account to pay myself for the time that I take off work.
  • I recognize that my energy, enthusiasm, creativity and probably other qualities are not infinitely renewable. I could work 50 hours a week, 51 weeks a year, but I don’t think that my current productivity level would last long. Everyone does what works for them, and for me, about 30 hours a week, 46 weeks a year is what’s sustainable.

Unplugged vacations might not be the norm these days, but even people who are actually important (as opposed to those of us who only fancy ourselves as important) think they’re worth considering. Here’s an interesting article in Harvard Business Review, which discusses the advantages of completely unplugging versus plugging in at scheduled times. And this article on CareerCast argues that unplugged vacations not only don’t hurt your career prospects, they actually help them.

So, now that you’re convinced (!), how do you do this? First, you pick a vacation destination that helps you, or even forces you, to unplug. As in, you don’t go to New York City and tell yourself that you’ll just leave your cell phone in the hotel room. You do something like go mountain bike camping in Utah, where there’s no cell reception anyway. Then, you find at least one trusted colleague who is available while you’re away. You send a pre-emptive e-mail to all of your clients and to the colleagues who regularly refer work to you, and you say something like:

Dear clients and colleagues: my office will be closed for vacation from X until Y, and I will not have access to e-mail or phone messages during this time. For urgent translations, please contact my trusted colleague (insert name and contact information). Otherwise I will respond to you as soon as possible when I return.

Note that if you truly want to unplug, you do not say that clients can call your cell phone if they need to reach you urgently. Nor do you leave them totally hanging and unable to get an urgent translation completed if they need one. You let them know that you are checking out completely, and you tell them who to contact while you’re away.

Finally, you put on your e-mail auto-responder and change your outgoing voicemail message, with something similar to the e-mail above. You clearly state that you are unavailable, and you provide a referral right there in the auto-response.

Then you go; you just do it. Put the office in the rear view mirror and enjoy your vacation. While you’re away, spend a little time making your peace with the fact that you may miss some work. You may even miss a really awesome project that you would have gladly interrupted the vacation for, had you known about it. That’s the reality of a week off the grid, but it’s a small price to pay for the renewed energy and enthusiasm you’ll have when you return. Because while you’re away, you’ll have a moment like this, and all of the missed work will be worth it!

Biking Utah's White Rim

20 Responses to “Unplugging: why and how”
    • Corinne McKay April 3, 2013
  1. Marion Rhodes April 2, 2013
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  2. Alina April 2, 2013
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  3. Andrés Fékete April 2, 2013
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  4. Carolyn Yohn April 2, 2013
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    • Corinne McKay April 3, 2013
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  6. Jessica April 3, 2013
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