April 18, 2012
Five reasons to commit to an unplugged vacation
As you read this, I should be thousands of miles away from Seattle, hopefully in the blazing sun under a palm tree, a drink in my hand, listening to the delighted squeals of my kids as they splash in a sparkling pool. And if all goes as planned, my thoughts will be light-years away from anything involving work.
No phone. No email. No tasks, meetings or breathless scrambling.
I don't get away for vacation much. Often when I do manage to leave town, I take work with me. As a freelancer, I can plan ahead so that I don't have immediate projects on my plate, but in my other persona as a small-business owner, it is super-difficult to leave my work behind. Even if the days are filled with fun and relaxation, my laptop is never far, emails and customers beg responses, and my phone is like a tracking device that refuses to leave me in peace.
But I prioritize seven to 10 days once a year to really, truly unplug. That means being honest to those I work with by communicating in advance that I am taking time for myself and my family, and telling my customers that I will happily respond to their concerns when I return.
My knee-jerk reaction to unplugging is fear, because I am one of those "yes" people who hates to disappoint anyone. But in the long run it is so much more valuable to just do it. Reasons to take the plunge and truly unplug for a vacation:
Your family will thank you. Come on, admit it: It's pretty depressing to see parents squinting down at their smartphones while their earnest, loving kids are trying to make memories. Every one of us, and every one of our relationships, needs renewal once in a while.
If you think your quick email checks under the table aren't noticed by anyone, you're definitely getting too much screen time. We all know when we're second fiddle, and it feels awful. The reality is that we all have responsibilities, and sometimes those invade our private or family lives. Taking a window to recommit to your loved ones will sustain your relationships during other, more hectic periods.
You'll maximize your investment. Think about it: Would you take $100, or $1,000, and throw it out the window? That's what you're doing when you make the investment to take time away from work and then only enjoy it halfway. Whether you're jet-setting somewhere far off or taking an economical "staycation," plan ahead to prepare as best you can, and then make every minute of your time, and every dollar spent, count.
Your colleagues and superiors will respect you. It takes a strong, centered person to say, "Down time is important." Many of us are eligible for time off, but our culture seems to penalize us for taking it and enjoying it fully (as opposed to some European countries, where vacation is more generously allotted and highly valued). By communicating your commitment to unplugged time off in a positive light and emphasizing its importance, you will be respected and might help others to place a higher value on down time.
You won't disappoint anyone with sloppy seconds. You don't impress anybody doing a job halfway. And that's exactly what we do when we are taking "time off" while scrambling to continue responding to people and stressing out. You work hard through the year to be a good employee or boss. Don't mess that up by setting the unrealistic expectation that you can still be on task while taking time off.
You'll be a better worker, or job seeker, or thinker, when you get back. Refreshed. Relaxed. Reconnected to your family or to yourself. Reminded that there is a big world out there, things to enjoy, interests to pursue. You might appreciate your colleagues more, or be able to tolerate them better, after some breathing room. Your brain will slow down, in a good way, without a nonstop barrage of content, scanning and streaming.
Maybe, like I often have, you will discover new ideas or a well of creativity that will bring fresh perspective and new energy to your work life. You never really know what you'll tap into, though, until you pull that plug.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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