The good news is that if you Google "how to unplug and go on vacation," you'll find lots of practical advice: delegate before you go, activate your Outlook "out of office" message and turn off email notifications.
The bad news is that, if you're like me--overly responsible, hyper-connected and prone to feeling guilty--all the handy tips in the world are not going to matter.
In fact, I'm lousy about taking a real vacation. I'm the one waking up early to work for an hour or two before everyone else gets out of bed. I've been known to leave the beach to go stand by the restrooms taking a conference call. And I consider it a victory if I only work half a day while taking a day off.
Pathetic, right? And this despite scientific studies that show people who don't take vacations are more likely to have health issues than those that do.
But this year I took an actual vacation for 12 days without working for a single hour the entire time. I didn't open my laptop (although I confess I did carry it with me just in case). I didn't read the work-related articles or books I had with me (also just in case). I didn't even think about work. In fact, my only concession to my never-sleeps sense of responsibility was to check emails for five minutes every morning just to see if there was anything brewing--but I didn't even open most messages, just checked the sender and subject line. And I didn't reply to a single email.
How did I accomplish this amazing feat? I did, in fact, follow all the advice (delegate, out-of-office message, etc.) But more importantly were 6 fundamental things I did differently--and that you should do, too:
- Convinced myself that my upcoming vacation was a reward, not an escape. As Patricia Hampl writes in The Wall Street Journal, many of us approach vacations from the wrong perspective: "This duty-driven life makes it difficult to really and truly go on vacation, or as we say, "take" a vacation--as if it were a form of theft, low-grade larceny, time pilfered from the cash machine." I treated my pending vacation as a gold star for work (and a lot of work) well done.
- Reveled in anticipating my vacation. Studies show that looking forward to an upcoming trip creates a big happiness boost--that then carries over into the vacation itself. For me, anticipation gave me motivation to get things accomplished at work, and to make sure I was ready to go (not tossing things in the suitcase minutes before leaving for the airport).
- Talked about my pending vacation to everyone at work--colleagues, clients, vendors, the cleaning crew. In doing so, I was making a commitment to going away--and being on vacation, not working through it. That meant that people started taking on more and also giving me the space I needed to get away.
- Trusted my team members. Here's Patricia Hampl again: "We are all breathless with our busyness, over-amped with everything we must/should/could do, gleaming with how necessary we are." But you hire people because they are smart and capable. That means, they can do their work very effectively while you are off for a week or two.
- Went away . . . far away. I love the idea of a "staycation" as much as the next person, but being home makes it too easy to work at home--after all, I do it all the time. So I've found that, to really unplug, I need a complete change of scenery and an environment that communicates to my brain that I'm on vacation. Tip: The south of France is very effective.
- Worked on savoring every moment. I deliberately chose the word "work" here because slowing down doesn't come naturally to me. But a Wall Street Journal article by Laura Vanderkam helped me appreciate the importance of appreciating an experience in the moment. Vanderkam writes that research psychologists Fred B. Bryant and the late Joseph Veroff showed that "it's possible to take active steps to make life's happy moments feel richer and last longer." So I savored every moment of drinking wine in an outdoor café or biking outside Arles.
In short, I had a wonderful time. I hope your summer vacation is just as relaxing.