Be the Exception to the Rule This Summer: Disconnect!

How many people do you know that completely disconnect from work anymore…ever?

I receive countless bounce backs from people when they are out of the office and “have limited access to email” and yet I will get a response back from them that same day.

Our society has become chronically unable to disconnect and it’s having an extremely negative impact on our health and our productivity at work.

I’ve decided to be one exception to this new way of being later this month, when I take a 3-week trip with no phone or work email and I’m doing this for many good reasons. From the countless articles and blogs on the negative health effects of not disconnecting, here are a few of them:

  • A 2014 UBC Study by Dunn & Kushlev  reports that checking emails frequently causes, among other issues, more stress, releasing more cortisol into our systems which interferes with memory and lowers immunity.
  • A 2015 HBR Blog by Gino & Statts indicates that the cognitive resources that we need to control our behaviour, desires and emotions get depleted with overwork and need to be refilled.
  • Ron Friedman, author of “The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace” (2015) says the lower our energy, the more we misread our colleagues and the more apt we are to respond negatively.

I’m sure this all sounds like common sense, but from what I see around me, it is not common practice. I read recently in Arianna Huffington’s new, well-researched book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, that people with smart phones check them, on average, every 6.5 minutes, which computes to 150 times/day!

A decision to disconnect on vacation may take a lot of planning. The last thing you want is to come back from a refreshing vacation and have to sift through 3000+ messages. Dr. Linda Duxbury, who has been researching work-life balance across Canada for the past 20 years, models a way to deal with this. When she is away, her bounce-back message alerts people to her return date and asks them to email her again after that time if it’s important, deleting the incoming message. I’ll be using this strategy for an email I have associated with one of my projects. With another account, I will have an assistant scanning through the emails, deleting what is not important, getting back to those that are, and saving just a few emails for my return.

How will you disconnect and take a break this summer? Friedman suggests some small changes to behaviour to make disconnecting easier. Instead of trying to change everything at once, find one small change you can implement right away and move from there. He gives the examples of leaving your phone in another room when you get home from work, or finding an enjoyable activity that you can partake in that takes concentration and keeps you from using your phone – such as a sport or a course.

Dunn & Kushlev suggest not just evening limits, but limiting yourself throughout the day to only checking email at three specified times. Checking email still causes a surge of cortisol, but then it activates a relaxation response in between.

To prepare for my trip, I’ve been purposely leaving my iPhone at home when I’ve been out lately – just to practice not having it. Seems crazy, but it’s amazing how reliant we become on these devices. I’ve moved to checking my emails only three times per day. I’ve started plugging my phone in at night in another room other than the bedroom. Baby steps…

I’d love to hear what you do to disconnect. But if you get in touch with me after May 19th, don’t expect to hear back until June because I will be totally unplugged somewhere in Greece! I’d be happy to look for your comments on this blog when I return though. Expect to see a much more refreshed version of me in the future. I’ll take before and after pictures! Let’s just see what happens…

Deborah Connors

Deborah Connors teaches leaders to radically shift culture so that people can flourish. She is an engaging speaker, storyteller, author and coach.

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