Over the recent Christmas break I took a self-imposed digital detox. After a frantic year at work and an even more frantic year at home, I decided to unplug and disconnect from my mobile, iPad, laptop and other digital devices.
I still took phone calls and sent text messages (and checked some of my mates' cycle times on Strava), but I purposely avoided tweeting, Linking, Facebooking, emailing, Pinning, RSS feeding, or constantly dialing into the grid.
There is no doubt in our "always on" and "constantly connected" 24/7 world, more and more people are wired up and melting down. We no longer use digital devices as a way of increasing productivity or connecting with family and friends – we are using them to run our lives. Correction - they are running our lives.
A recent report titled "Work State of Mind" highlighted how many executives resemble 24/7 news networks, constantly receiving, processing and sending information. Only 2 per cent of respondents said they never work on weekends, and 52 per cent reported receiving information around the clock.
Researchers form the University of Glasgow reported half of the study participants checked their emails at least every hour, with some respondents checking 30 to 40 times each hour. An AOL study revealed 59 per cent of smartphone users check every time an email arrives, and 83 per cent regularly check email on holidays.
The human brain is not a machine that can just turn on in the morning and run at the same intensity all day. Multitasking and being constantly connected overheats the brain, similar to a car engine that has been running at high intensity for too long. Our bodies and brains need periods of rest and recovery during the day to perform at their peak.
A friend who works in the media was telling me about her one-month break over Christmas. When I asked her "how was your time off?" she responded with "it went so quick and I feel like I haven't really had a mental break from my job". Doing a bit of investigating of my own, I checked her Twitter account and saw she had been tweeting nearly every day on her break – no wonder she didn't feel rested when she got back to work.
Last week I asked a coaching client how his recent family holiday was in Fiji and he said "the hotel was amazing, I had full internet connectivity the entire time I was there and I got a heap of work done by the pool".
Have we really lost the plot? Call me old fashioned, but aren't holidays meant to be a time to switch off, recharge and have a break from all of the busyness of day-to-day life? And aren't holidays meant to be an opportunity to slow down, reflect and to have actual physical human interaction?
Seems like my friend and coaching client are both candidates for a recent trend in the travel industry that tempts people to get away with digital-detox holiday packages.
St Vincent and the Grenadines in the Carribean asks travellers to leave their technology at home. Before arriving on one of the 32 islands, visitors receive a guidebook explaining how to survive their upcoming holiday without technology. They even have an on-site life coach to give people practical advice on how to tame technology. Do a Google search on technology-free holidays and the list is growing exponentially.
If you don't want to sign up to a digital-detox holiday package, here are a few tips to create your own next time you get away from the rat race.
Turn off your mobile
The thought of this will scare some people senseless, but life will go on. If you need your phone for contact, at the very least turn off the internet function and only use your phone for personal calls or text messages
Social media freeze
Next time you have a break, stay away from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the rest. Rather than posting photos or messages about how you're having a great time, actually be present and have a great time.
Set up the auto-responder on your email to let everyone know you are away and won't be checking your messages. If it is urgent, give them details for another colleague or ask them to send you a text message.
Leave your phone in the room
Try leaving your phone in the hotel room when you head out to explore and avoid the impulse of "just checking to see what's come in". I know some executives who consciously hand their laptops and digital devices over to hotel reception when they check in for holidays - to avoid the temptation.
Try experimenting with short periods of inaccessibility and working for half a day without connecting to the internet and without constantly checking your phone. Try an afternoon with your family or partner going technology-free. The scary thing is you might all have to talk to each other …
One final tip: be prepared to go through some stages of withdrawal, especially if you are constantly connected. But overall, a digital-detox is a great way to freshen up and help you gain perspective on what is really important.
Do you "switch off" on holidays or weekends? What are your best tips?