Leaving it All Behind
There probably hasn't been a better time in recent memory to disconnect — at least for a little while — from our work. An endless onslaught of dire financial news has most Americans more stressed out than ever. But that, say the experts, is why we should carve out some downtime and really make it disconnect time. Even if, in these cash- and time-strapped times, it's only for a weekend getaway.
"On their deathbeds, most people, maybe 95 percent, talk about their loved ones, not their work," says Dr. Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People . "But in some work cultures, if you go on vacation, you're considered a slacker. So you have to make your mind up that a vacation is what you're going to do. Involve your family and collectively agree that you'll leave your work behind and lead a stress-free vacation."
But smart phones and the internet make it even harder to get away from the office — and CNBC, Bloomberg and every other website keeping us aware of the DOW's gyrations.According to Expedia.com's 2008 Vacation Deprivation survey, 24 percent of workers checked their voice mail or email while on vacation. The survey also found that 35 percent of Americans did not take all of their vacation days.
"When you take a vacation, strengths are made productive and weaknesses are made irrelevant," Dr. Covey says. “You let the farm lie fallow and the earth reconstitute itself. A vacation break is like daily exercise. You get significantly increased vitality and health. It should be part of everyone’s overall personal mission statement."
Dr. Covey has two suggestions to make a vacation an actual “vacation.”
"Make your mind up that's what you're going to do," he says. "It's a clear, personal determination that should involve your family. And prepare in advance. Take some time to deal with problems and issues. Get on top of your work before you go. Don't leave a lot of loose ends."
And this is very much in line with the philosophy espoused by Dr. Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People .
"It's the seventh habit," he points out,"which is "Sharpen the Saw. It's the importance of taking a vacation, of taking a break, and going someplace where you can relax. In many ways, its like daily exercise. It can significantly increase your vitality and your health.”
Dr. Covey's thoughts on leaving work behind are echoed by other professionals, such as Allison Schwartz, a life coach specializing in leadership and self-empowerment strategies. Schwartz says that "leaving your job at home and disconnecting completely from your work on vacation is integral to your professional growth. It clears your mind and makes room for creativity to flourish, resulting in innovative ideas that would not have occurred had you brought your work with you on vacation."
That disconnect starts with setting up your workplace to be prepared for your absence, according to a chorus of life and business coaches around the country. And informing everyone around you that you intend to do just that.
"Two weeks prior to your vacation, let your clients, internal team, and boss know you're taking time off, and let them know you're really going to disconnect," says Karla Robertson, a business coach and president of Shifting Gears in Howell, NJ. "Hand over the reins and delegate to others."
Then there's the mechanical switching off that virtually every coach advocates. Leave your Blackberry and laptop in the office and don't check voice mail, suggests Laura Stack, a time management trainer and the author of Leave the Office Earlier: The Productivity Pro Shows You How to Do More in Less Time…and Feel Great About It . "It's becoming more acceptable for people to leave extended absence greetings or automated email responses," Stack points out. "If you team up with a colleague to cover for you, then you can return the favor."
But this is tougher, if not impossible, for those who are self-employed or run a small business. So if you must stay in touch, say the pros, put strict limits on yourself.
"If you must stay connected, use email," says Dr. Karissa Thacker, a management psychologist and executive coach. "Do not speak to anyone directly unless absolutely necessary. Check your email first thing in the morning and then put it away. Put a time limit on it, like 30 minutes."
And consider building in an extra day back home instead of immediately returning to work, suggests Jeff Davidson, author of Breathing Space: Living and Working at a Comfortable Pace in a Sped-Up Society . Davidson says that "before you even depart, plan your vacation so that you return home one day before you told everybody you would. You are better off taking one less vacation day and building in a day for transition and decompression than coming back too abruptly."
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