With communication technology expanding constantly, people are spending a lot of time at work–even when they are not at work. Email, cell phones and social media have made it possible for you to stay in touch with people with whom you might otherwise lose contact due to distance or just simple scheduling incompatibility. They have also made it easier for you to check in on work stuff and complete tasks from a remote location, outside of traditional business hours.
However, for all the benefits that the increasing number of contact points gives us, the down side is that it is much harder to be “unavailable,” both professionally and socially, to say nothing of the stress that being constantly “on” can add to an already hectic life.
No matter how connected the world is becoming, the fact remains that everyone needs to take a vacation sometime, from working hard AND playing hard.
When I decide to treat myself to a true “off day”, here is my strategy:
1) Notification: When you go on a trip to a remote island or to a cabin in the wilderness, it is customary to let people know that you will have limited access to your normal communication devices. In the case of an off day, I am also on a remote island–in my mind. Therefore, I attempt to notify people in advance that I will only be accessible via certain methods. I don’t make a big announcement (announcing a future absence is inviting a downpour of last minute messages and requests), but if I think certain parties would be affected by my absence, I will let them know what’s up.
2) Email: When my off day begins, I will check my email once in the morning…and THAT’S IT. If I see anything that is urgent and easily addressed, I will send a quick response, often with the addendum that I will be unavailable for the rest of the day, and then I shut it down.
3) Social Media: BLACKOUT. I use social media for entertainment and networking, not as a vessel for serious conversations. Therefore, I know I won’t miss too much truly critical stuff if I go dark for a little bit. Sorry, Facebook friends and Twitterheads, you’re just gonna have to live without me for 24 hours.
4) Cell Phone: I would love nothing more than to turn it off completely…but emergencies do come up, even on an off day. However, I refuse to let my time be eaten up by endless text conversations. So, while the cell phone stays on and brief phone calls will be accepted, I will not text.
5) Office Hours: Even with limiting the inroads of my availability, it is important to have some totally alone time. After all, it’s an off day. If there was ever a time to be completely unreachable for a little bit, it’s now. So I set “office hours” between 9am and 7pm. Outside of that block, I will be COMPLETELY UNAVAILABLE BY ANY MEANS EVEN IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY! If you live in my general vicinity, then you are welcome to talk to me in person. If you are willing to physically leave your house and commute to wherever it is I happen to be, then I concede it must be a real emergency indeed. But if the situation isn’t worth a car ride and a personal conversation, then it can wait until the morning.
As social media becomes more prevalent in all areas of our lives–work, friends, family, special interest groups, entertainment, and so on–it is going to become imperative that we take time to cut the cord once in a while. I suggest giving yourself a little “e-break” once a week. At first, you might not have the fortitude to go a whole day (you’d be surprised how quick and strong the withdrawal can be) so may just start with an hour or two during the evening or on a Sunday afternoon. You’ll be surprised how good it feels to unplug, power down, and switch off for a little bit. And if you do find yourself getting anxious while wondering what you’re missing, just repeat these three words: “It. Can. Wait.”
Once you’re able to slow down for a second and think about it, you have to admit…you’re probably not really missing anything anyway.