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Vacation unplugged: How to hit the reset button

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En español | Have you ever had a vacation go awry because of work? You go away with the best of intentions, but instead of enjoying some much-needed R&R, you find yourself answering emails, taking business calls and basically working during your time off. In a fast-moving, “always on” world, how do you truly unplug?

At some point, most of us have had a vacation interrupted because of work. Take Ginny Caggiano, who leads marketing communications agency Crackerjack Communications. “In a high-service, deadline-oriented business, it can be hard to juggle the need to be constantly available with the need for downtime,” says Ginny. “I hate to admit it, but I’ve had vacations where I’ve snuck back to my room to check work emails, return calls and even write copy for clients, which effectively prevented me from getting into vacation mode.”

Like Ginny, we go into vacation with rest and relaxation usually topping the list of must-do’s. Yet too often, instead of enjoying our time off, we find ourselves working. Here are some tips to help you disconnect.

Break the digital chains that bind you

The case for unplugging

Next time you're on vacation and you're about to check your work email, remind yourself why it's important to unplug:

  • Give your eyeballs a rest
  • Get your head out of work
  • Be inspired by new ideas, places and things
  • Make new memories with family and friends
  • Relax to restore the mind, body and spirit

Most of us love our cell phones, tablets, laptops and other digital devices. They entertain us, inform us and connect us with the world. But when we’re on vacation, they also connect us with exactly what we’re trying to escape: work.

For example, you’re on the beach taking a photo with your smartphone – only to be brought back to reality by the chiming of an email from your boss. When you mix business and pleasure on the same devices, it can be challenging to truly escape. Next time you’re on vacation, try one of these strategies:

  • Go cold turkey – While it can be nerve-wracking at first, consider turning off your phone, leaving your laptop at home and going off the grid for a week or two. Tim Hennigan, travel consultant at The Travel Collaborative, recommends selecting a resort that has limited Wi-Fi or that specifically asks guests not to use cell phones in public areas. “Something like a cruise can help force even the most resolute workaholic off the grid,” says Tim.
  • Adopt the as-little-as-I-can plan – Sometimes work responsibilities prevent us from just burying our phones in the sand. In that case, resolve to limit your device use as much as possible. Pick a specific time of day—after dinner, for example—to check your work email and voicemail. Other than those designated times, leave your devices safely tucked away in your hotel room. There’s also strength in numbers. When you’re on vacation with your significant other or a group of friends, make a pact to check your devices less frequently.

Prepare to disconnect

Business owners and those who work in businesses with around-the-clock needs may feel particularly indispensible, but everyone needs (and deserves) a break. While you can never plan for everything, you can minimize the chances of needing to work on vacation by taking a few key steps:

The high price of skipping vacation

On average, Americans are taking fewer vacation days than they have at any point in the last four decades. And it’s contributing to major stress. In fact, Americans who leave 11 days or more unused reported being “very” or “extremely” stressed with their work lives.1

1) Schedule smart – Determine when it’s easiest for you to get away. Kim Herman, a partner at the law firm Sullivan & Worcester, takes it one step further: “I actually ask my clients when they’re going on vacation.” If the majority of her clients are away in late August, she feels confident booking her family vacation during that timeframe. Kim also suggests asking co-workers when they’re planning to go away to ensure there’s appropriate in-office coverage.

2) Communicate clearly – Let key clients and co-workers know your plans and whom they can contact in your absence. If you’re going to be reachable on vacation, Michele McMorrow, an accountant at Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein LLP, recommends setting boundaries: “It’s okay to say, ‘Please only call me under these circumstances.’” However, if you’ll be leaving your devices at home, be sure everyone knows that, too.

3) Delegate wisely – Select a specific person to handle your work responsibilities and act as a “gatekeeper” for ad-hoc requests. Ensure that person is knowledgeable about your projects and give him or her a list of important dates, details and contact information.

4) Stay safe – In case of emergencies, give a loved one or trusted friend the contact information of your hotel. This step is especially important if you’re going off the grid.

5) Automate – Remember to set up your automatic “out-of-office” email response and update your voicemail to let people know that you’re on vacation and not checking (or, at least, not regularly checking) messages. If your smartphone allows you to turn off certain email notifications, consider doing that, too. After all, nothing ruins a blissful moment faster than hearing the continual ping of meeting requests, all reminders of the work that’s piling up for you when you get back.

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Refresh, relax and return home rested

Taking breaks is important to our mental health, but many of us don’t use all of our vacation days—a trend that’s become more pronounced over time. In fact, Americans are taking less vacation time than at any point in the last four decades, leaving 169 million days of paid time off “on the table” each year.1

With so few days to enjoy, try to maximize them by taking a break from your digital devices. “Arrange an adventure or learning experience,” recommends Tim Hennigan. “It’ll give you a great story to tell later; plus, there’s no better way to reconnect with loved ones than by learning something new…together.”

But he acknowledges that disconnecting can be hard to do. “We can be like addicts when it comes to our work…ultimately, it’s up to us to remember why we’ve travelled in the first place,” he says.

Learn more and take action

 
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1 https://www.ustravel.org/news/press-releases/working-free-us-workforce-forfeits-524-billion-time-benefits-annually, October 21, 2014.

2 http://www.projecttimeoff.com/news/press-releases/224-billion-tied-accumulated-vacation-time-across-private-sector, March 4, 2015.

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