Close your eyes and imagine the sound of crashing waves, the feeling of sun on your face, and a cool drink in your hand. For some, this anticipation of vacation brings feelings of happiness and relaxation — for many more, it means added stress and a never-ending list of tasks. With the summer travel season in full swing, it’s time to review the value of down time and discover four tips to help you digitally detach without worry.
The Value of Travel & Down Time
Travel is very important to me and has been a large part of my life. I find that time spent in other environments, cultures and fresh activities expands my thinking, allows me to reconnect to my values, and practice the healthy habits I encourage my clients to use. Travelling and really connecting with the environment is an enlightening experience, and there are so many beautiful sightseeing spots around the globe to see.
Due to pandemic precautions and new work-from-home policies, 92% of Americans canceled, postponed or simply never planned to travel in 2020. Two years prior, a U.S. Travel Association study revealed that 768 million days of paid time off were forfeited. Not only are we now working more days, the National Bureau of Economic Research reported the “average workday span increased by +48.5 minutes” in 2020. Conflicting feelings of being seen as replaceable, as well as being the only one who knows how to get the job done, are two barriers to taking PTO that I discuss often with clients.
Four Tips for Vacationing Without Worry
Maybe you are concerned that things may not go smoothly while you’re gone. Or maybe the volume of email to which you’ll return feels overwhelming. Or maybe you feel that the customer may not wait, and you’ll lose business. I understand all those concerns. They were mine, too.
Nevertheless, in 2019, I took a two-week vacation to explore Tibet — with no computer or email replies in tow. It is possible to be out-of-touch without the world crashing down; it takes upfront preparation but you are rewarded with the mental and emotional space to absorb the wonders of your destination..
1. Touch base with clients or bosses in advance. For anyone with a pending action item or action that may be needed while I was gone, I contacted them in advance. I explained that I would be in Tibet with iffy Wi-Fi and cell coverage. No one panicked, most were pleased that I let them know, and all were happy for me.
2. Complete deliverables in advance. I made an effort to complete tasks in advance that would be due while I was gone. For those items I was not able to complete, meetings were scheduled after my return to discuss progress, schedule and due dates.
3. Ask staff or a trusted colleague to monitor and respond to emails. My staff monitored my emails for any unanticipated issues or for client questions (from current or prospective clients). When appropriate, they let the client know that I was out of the country. If they couldn’t help directly, they worked with the person to schedule a call when I returned. Everyone felt that we were responsive to their requests. If you are part of a larger team, ensure a partner on each of your projects is cc’d into important emails so that communication can go uninterrupted.
4. Clean out the junk emails. Pro-tip: proceed with caution. I opted to periodically delete junk emails when I had accessible Wi-Fi. I chose to do so during “lag time” (such as waiting at an airport terminal) so I wasn’t overwhelmed by the sheer volume of emails. There is something heart-stopping about seeing hundreds of emails stacked up after a two-week trip. The trick, of course, is to not get sucked into work. It was effective for me because I scanned email subject lines and the sender. I didn’t open or read anything. Junk emails were obvious and safely deleted. When I returned, there was a much more manageable number of emails that needed “real” consideration and response.
Ray Bradbury, American author of the seminal novels Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, was quoted to say, “Half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness.” While traveling through space isn’t likely to top most of our out-of-office replies, there are bodies of research showing that people with ground-breaking successes had plenty of down time, and frequently it was during the down time that new insights emerged. I encourage you to carve out time for a break for yourself soon, too. It will help you treat your brain well, and ready you for insightful decision-making without overthinking.