Sometimes You Have to Unplug to Connect

Relax

If your job is social media or working on a hot project or a project with executive visibility (or in my case, both), you are plugged in a lot – maybe even while brushing your teeth at night, flipping through your streams of communications. If you volunteer in the evenings or have kids on sports teams, you are plugged there too. It’s the only way you can keep all of that going. It’s modern life. Always being plugged in is how we communicate and stay in touch.

I am fortunate enough to work at a company that provides employees an amazing benefit – a two-month employee sabbatical every seven years. I took my second sabbatical this summer and it was great! It was great because I made some tough decisions on my plugged-in-ness. Although my job was going awesome and I was super motivated by my work, I did a full hand-off of all of my activities (and even used it as an opportunity to ditch some things that really weren’t high value). I handed off my duties at the non-profit and let everyone else who depends on me know I was going to be gone and truly not available. And I have to admit, I didn’t do all of the pre-unplugging planning that Baratunde Thurston did, as he documents in his article on unplugging, “Baratunde Thurston Leaves the Internet.” In fact, I just kind of told a few people, set out of office on my laptop, and walked out the door.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Told a few people at work I was leaving.
  2. Made sure my coverage person was trained and ready.
  3. Set my Out of Office at work.
  4. Locked my Ultrabook and smart phone in my safe and left.

My family and I went to Chicago, then Italy and Croatia for four weeks, then had friends visiting us when we got back home. While traveling, I only used social media, when I wanted to, for fun and family – without any feeling of obligation. I used my i-Pad primarily off-line as a Kindle reader. I even left my wristwatch in the drawer to wean myself off of being fully scheduled and constantly checking the clock.

And the result? I relaxed, I mean I really relaxed. I was able to focus 100% on my family – not running from scheduled family activity to activity – but just talking, checking out new cities and sites. When you don’t have your nose pointed at a device, you meet people. We met several families and spontaneously decide to go boating, to the beach or sightseeing together. That is the part I love about traveling – meeting people from different countries and cultures and simply hanging out. And I was able to share that love of mine with my daughter. In fact I shared a lot of good quality time with my family over the course of my two months off. I focused on the stuff that really means something.

It’s ironic that I unplugged to connect again, but that’s how it is – and how I want it to stay.

You can bet, as I go back to work, I will make some better choices about my device usage. First thing to go? I think I will quit checking mails while I’m brushing my teeth. But you don’t need a sabbatical to teach you to make sure you have some planned unplugged time each week. Just #unplug and connect.

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