You're finally going on vacation. But how far away from work will you actually be? Will you be lolling on the beach or strolling the streets of a foreign city, reconnecting with your partner or spouse, and finally reading that book you've had stored in your tablet for months? Or will you be checking your email every couple of hours and scoping out cafes where you can spend an hour or two catching up with work while your loved ones play in the surf? If you're like most of the respondents in a recent Robert Half Management Resources survey, you'll be spending at least some of your vacation time still tethered to your job. In a survey of CFOs at companies large and small, 68 percent said they typically check in with work regularly during their vacations. More than half said they check in once a day or more. Fifteen percent said they check in several times a day-which leaves one wondering how much time they spend actually vacationing. Embarrassingly, I'm not much better. During a week-long yoga retreat in Costa Rica, I stayed up late every night using the only available wi-fi on a patio at the guest house where I was staying, even though I had to get up at 6 am to make it to yoga class. October before last, I took what might be called an emergency vacation to Cape Cod to spend a few days staring at the Atlantic Ocean and recovering from a bad case of burn-out. But I still monitored and responded to my email with more-than-daily frequency. I couldn't have imagined doing otherwise. The thing is, this is no good. Not for me, not for the surveyed CFOs, and not for you. There's plenty of evidence to show that taking regular vacations is not only good for your relationships, it improves brain function and might actually lengthen your life. If you spend all your time working, or even checking in about work problems, you dilute every one of those benefits. And whatever we may think, checking in with work during vacations truly is unnecessary. I'm going to prove it to you. Here goes:
1. In a true emergency, work will find you.
Most work "emergencies" really aren't emergencies at all. But imagine for a moment that something truly catastrophic happens back at the office. A fire or flood destroys your building and all your inventory. The person you left in charge suffers a sudden illness and becomes unavailable indefinitely. A trusted member of your staff commits fraud and all your accounts are suddenly emptied. In an emergency of those proportions, your employees back at the office will make superhuman efforts to contact you. If you've shared any information at all about where you're staying and how you can be reached, they'll succeed. So you really don't need to check in in case of an emergency. In fact, I suggest you tell your staff back at the office how to reach you indirectly rather than directly. Give them the number of the hotel where you're staying, or a local friend, or your traveling companion, rather than having them use yours. They'll be able to reach you if the ceiling collapses, but they may rightly be embarrassed to call up your wife and ask her to ask you which form to fill out when filing paperwork. It will help them distinguish between real emergencies and not-so-urgent ones. And it will encourage them to solve as many problems as possible on their own.
2. You are not indispensible. And if you are, that's a bigger problem.
Imagine for a moment that you are not on vacation but have been in an accident and are in the hospital, barely conscious. Would your company be forced to shut down? If the answer is yes, then you had better train others at your job to take over for you, because you can never be sure when they might need to. If the answer is no, then your company can struggle along without you, at least for a week. Believing that you're absolutely indispensible-or worse, setting up your workplace to make sure that you are-may give you an ego boost. It may make you feel that you have job security. But all it actually does is prevent you from moving on to bigger and better things, such as a promotion to a new position or a new market for your company. And if you can't move up from your current position, chances are the people who work for you can't either because there's no place for them to move to. The most talented among them may start looking for other opportunities.
3. You need to pay attention to your family and relationships.
Regular vacations make for healthier romantic relationships and happier families. Reconnecting with your loved ones is one very important reason to go on vacation, but your loved ones will feel dissed if you spend half the time reconnecting with your workplace instead. If you've ever been through a divorce or another major relationship trauma, you know that you can't be fully present at work while something emotionally draining is going on in your personal life. So consider the time you spend with the people in your life on vacation to be an investment in being more focused and effective at work later on.
4. You need to disconnect to unleash your creativity.
Where do you get your best, most game-changing ideas? Is it when you're sitting at your desk surrounded by unfinished projects? While checking your email, texts, and voice messages? While sitting in meetings? Or is it when you unplug-in the shower, while driving (if you're not on the phone)...or while on vacation? For me and for many people, the brain-enhancing effects of getting away are reflected in new ideas, new creations, and new solutions to thorny problems. But to get the full benefit if the brain-clearing vacations provide, you have to actually clear your brain. The more you check in with work, the less clear it'll be.
5. You are not your job.
That's an unusual, and sometimes uncomfortable thought for most of us. In particular, if you've started a company, it's natural to think of that company as an extension of yourself. And yet, your company may be acquired, taken over by someone else, or it may even fail-and you'll still be here, with the rest of your career, and the rest of your life to attend to. Going on vacation gives you a once-or-twice-a-year opportunity to reconnect with your non-workplace self, and to take stock of where you are in your career and in your life. It's a chance to do an honest review and ask yourself if your current work, as well as your current relationships, are truly what you want them to be, what you would choose if you had it to do over. And if the answer is no, that same time off gives you a chance to think through the changes you want to make, and how you might go about making them. All of this works best if you make sure to take those few days to disconnect from your job and focus on your life, your loved ones, and yourself. Giving yourself that time to reflect might be the best thing you can do for your company. And it's certainly the best thing you can do for yourself. More: