On a family camping trip in the remote Arkansas mountains I was excited to get away from my laptop, but it turns out that the area where we were camping was outside of cell coverage as well. I was totally unplugged for the duration of our camping trip, something that the average business owner might find horrifying.
The experience opened my eyes to some of the dangers of our continually plugged-in digital lives. When your connection to society and your livelihood rests in your pocket, you may not realize the hold your phone can have on you. With push notifications, messages and other sensory inputs, our phone can train us to stop what we’re doing and immediately pay attention to it, just like Pavlov’s Dogs. And cognitively, we’re often worse for the wear because of it.
Not only can interruptions hurt our work output, they can also hurt us at a much deeper level. Kent State conducted a study that showed students who frequently used their cellphones tended to have lower GPAs, higher anxiety and lower satisfaction of life compared to peers who didn’t use their cellphones as much.
As I write this, I can already imagine the excuses for not unplugging. Many of them probably fall into these two categories:
- “What if I miss an opportunity?”
- “What if I miss a catastrophe?”
Think of it this way: By not taking a break, you may be missing an opportunity to reflect and grow your business. Having a chance to truly dream, or brainstorm is invaluable to your business. It has the potential to re-energize you.
Totally unplugging is not an easy task. It takes deliberate planning and resolve to make it happen. So start small. Close the laptop and put the phone on airplane mode for an hour. Read an actual paper book or let your mind wander. I’ve found that during these times I'll often figure out hard problems, solely from the fact that I’ve given my mind leeway to unplug.
From a higher level, it’s more about being in control of the technology and not letting the technology control you. You may immediately start to see the benefits from unplugging. The first for me was the amount of clarity that comes without the constant subconscious tug of being connected. When my mind accepted the fact that I couldn’t whip out my smartphone at the first hint of boredom, I began to mentally twitch less. Pretty soon the impulse was entirely gone.
Benefits of Taking True Vacation Time
During my vacation I was having full and complete thoughts without distraction. I was carrying on conversations with other family members without needing to “check something” or reply to a text from someone who was hundreds of miles away. I also found a layer of stress melt away. As the days went on, my mental state became clearer and more relaxed. By the time we left the campground, I was completely refreshed (despite some pretty terrible sleeping conditions).
Expedia conducts a yearly Vacation Deprivation study, and 2015’s study showed that Americans on average take 11 vacation days a year, leaving on average four paid vacation days unused. Even more telling, was that of those surveyed, 25 percent of workers worldwide stayed connected while on vacation.
You don’t need to go anywhere to unplug, though. You can do it in your office or at your home. But be warned: It’s harder to do than you might think. Our world has become increasingly “smarter,” offering more connected devices in every living and workspace. But if you make a concerted effort to unplug from technology often, both you and your business may benefit.
Read more articles on productivity.
This article was originally published on November 26, 2014.