How to forget work when you're on holiday

Tempted to quickly check your work emails when you’re on the beach? It won’t do you any good. And there's science to prove it.

Even if you’re a C-level manager, you’re a human being who still needs to rest. Being in charge of a business doesn’t mean you can’t switch off, and as we're big fans of holidays, we have a few thoughts on how to switch off properly.

Here’s what happens if you take your work with you - and what happens when you learn to completely forget about it.

What happens when you disconnect properly

Timetastic founder and director Gary found that being connected to work didn’t work for him when on holiday with his wife and kids:

Work was busy, stuff was happening and I was getting the odd phone call here and there. One evening my wife said, "do you not mind getting calls while you are on holiday?”

I said, “not really to be honest, I kind of accept it as part of being a Director”

She paused... then said, “we mind.”

So the next time I went on holiday, just as we were leaving home, I switched my phone off, put it in my underwear drawer and walked out of the house.

Best thing I ever did, one week with no phone.

I switched off quicker, payed more attention to my wife and kids. I was a better husband and father.

Now, when he’s on holiday, Gary puts his phone in the hotel safe, and checks it once a day maximum, when the kids are in bed. His top tips for going phoneless on holiday:

  • Leave your phone at home, put it in the safe, or give it to your partner to look after.
  • If you must keep it, delete your email app while you’re away.
  • Take a camera - compact, DSLR or disposable. They take better snaps than phones do anyway.

It’s not just technical solutions that’ll address this issue. It’s about setting communication expectations, too. Gary continues:

Tell people you're on holiday and won’t check messages - tell them the hotel you're staying at, or your partners mobile number for emergencies. The additional step means they won’t contact you unless absolutely necessary.

Trust people to make decisions in your absence. When I go away I always say to my team, “The worst decision is no decision. Make a choice and go with it, I'll back you up even if I’d have chosen differently”. The point is, I’m away, and I accept what happens in my absence.

Nothing bad happens; you’ve shown them your trust. In response they take on more responsibility and show more initiative.

So, if you trust your staff, put decision-making systems in place with a reasonable margin of error. You might be surprised at how well people step up to the responsibility when given important things to do.

Photo by @kalenemsley and model @brookewillson
Photo by Kalen Emsley / Unsplash

A company culture of disconnection

A 2018 meta-analysis (a study of previous studies) published in the International Journal of Management Reviews shines an interesting light on what they call voluntary ICT use during non-work time. After looking at 54 different examples of research into this topic, researchers found that basically all of it led to negative outcomes. Stress and poor mental wellbeing were the most common result of workers staying connected to work when they didn't need to.

On whether or not employers should restrict communications while employees are on holiday, the researchers’ answer is basically - not sure. Some employers try initiatives like shutting down company-wide emails for those on leave, but rarely share the results of these programs.

What they found is that staying ‘connected’ during non-work time was almost always voluntary, meaning managers didn’t explicitly demand it, but subtler cultural forces meant people were peer-pressured into doing it. According to the researchers:

This further emphasizes the demand for self‐management, which is embedded in a supportive organisational culture.

There’s no one-size-fits all solution, but one thing is for sure - encouraging folks to switch the work phone off when they’re away means they’ll come back more rested, happy, energetic, and ready to work.

Remember why you’re on holiday

It’s easy to get caught up in the logistics of it all - booking flights, choosing Airbnbs, planning your itineraries - and forget why we actually go away in the first place. We take time off primarily to rest. The quiet times are where we recharge energy to cope with the busy times.

As Leo Babauta writes in his Zen Habits article, Antidotes to Overwork:

Learn to find the deliciousness in the moments you create of disconnected time. Of not-work time. Of being present with your loved ones, present with yourself. Of moving, being outdoors, getting active. Only when you can make these changes will you finally have the antidote to overwork. You can do this.

If you’re itching the connection that picking up your phone brings, maybe something’s missing in your life.

You might have a slight addiction to mindless web surfing, playing games, or texting. You’re not alone - according to one study, the average Brit checks their smartphone every 12 minutes!

While there’s nothing wrong with this from time to time, they may be indicators of something under the surface. Addiction issues often appear when we’re burying something we don’t want to think about.

This might be an opportunity to reflect on why you’re so anxious to return to the electronic world so often - is there something you’re avoiding? Can you talk about it or seek help? Be kind to yourself and take a moment to consider it.

A long walk in nature with no distractions might be just what you need.


Feature photo by Patrick Robert Doyle on Unsplash