Disconnecting

Poolside MerzougaLet go … and open your eyes. Let go … and relax. Give in … and be free. Leave your smartphone at home. Leave your office behind. Don’t check your company e-mail. Your co-workers, your job, will be fine without you. And you will be better without them for a while.

We live in a world of constant connectivity. We can work from anywhere — and so we do. We work more and more hours, take fewer days off. And even when we do take time off, we check our email, our voice messages. There aren’t people available to cover for us when we are away. In our absence, things won’t get done. We must be available, just in case. And so our vacations are over before they’ve begun.

Years ago, just before the Blackberry came out, a public relations person for a large, well-known software company pitched me a story about travel connectivity. She argued that laptops and the Internet would allow busy executives and business owners to finally break free and take the time off they had never enjoyed before. Because they were connected, they could go away and still know what was going on back at the office, still be available in an emergency, still be accessible when a customer called.

I could picture all these busy managers sitting poolside with their laptops and cell phones, or shuttered up in their hotel rooms while their families were out having fun in the sun. I see this a lot when I visit hotels in Florida. Lots of dads busy working while their wives and kids are off at Disney and Universal. Fewer moms stay behind, though. I always imagine their family pictures, mom and the kids posing with Mickey and Snow White. And where was Dad? They’ll lie and say he was the one taking the picture. But the kids always give them away. The kids remember. I remember. I recall a week at Jacksonville Beach when my dad was off at some banking conference in town. And a time at a cabin at Lake Allatoona when we only saw my mom at night.

Don’t call it a vacation. Call it what it is: work. These people are telecommuting.

It’s usually the people who complain the most about how many hours they work who never take a vacation.If you are a boss and you can’t get away, hire better people who can manage things for you — or stay at the office. If your company expects you to constantly check in, get another job. If you’re one of those controlling, “no one else but me can do my job” people, learn to let go. Think about how much you disrespect your colleagues by not trusting them. And are you really paid enough to always be on call? It’s usually the people who complain the most about how many hours they work who never take a vacation.

Here are the facts. Stress will kill you. All sorts of research has found that people’s minds and bodies need to disconnect and get away from their work. If they don’t, they burn out, break down, get fat, have heart attacks, go postal. In most of the developed world, it’s written into the social contract: You take a month off; you get lots of holidays; you aren’t a slave to constant productivity.

Think of a time when you didn’t care about being productive. Remember what fun you had on summer vacation as a child? How great it was not to go to school? Just the thought of three months off — to do whatever you wanted or nothing at all — or anticipating the family’s week at the beach was enough to get you through that last agonizing month of classes. And what about those spring breaks in college? Work was the last thing on your mind. You wanted to have fun, probably way too much fun.

Well, you still have a right to fun. You have a right to a life away from work. And like the kid in the movie says, you miss things if you don’t stop and look around once in a while.

So unplug. Put the smartphone away. Use the Internet only to help facilitate the trip. Send an email to your parents once or twice, so they know you are okay. Don’t post to Facebook. Tell your friends all about it when you get home. Forget you have a job. Have a life instead. Open yourself to the adventure. Connect to your surroundings. Have fun.

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