Are you able to unplug and disconnect?

I just returned from a successful winter vacation at a great beachside resort. I say “successful” because being the proud workaholic that I am I determine the success of my vacations on my ability to unplug, disconnect and truly rejuvenate.

A long time ago I concluded that when I really want time off, I have to spend it in a place that supports that cause; a place where I don’t need to carry a wallet, buy food and drinks; a place that doesn’t have easy access to internet or internet at all.

Unfortunately, in today’s digital era it is becoming increasingly challenging to find places that don’t have internet. We can’t even escape from it on flights anymore. There doesn’t seem to be many places left where you can hide from the rat race these days.

In most companies, it’s accepted, even expected for people to continue to work or stay connected while on vacation. Most professionals find it hard to disconnect, even if their company doesn’t require them to stay in touch. Even if you love your work, it requires personal determination and discipline (for us fast-paced workaholics) to truly disconnect and unwind.

Personally, I need this physical and mental disconnection every so often. In addition, unplugging has greatly contributed to my business success. These periods of time off have provided invaluable opportunities to think, reflect, gain new perspectives, take stock of progress, create and plan for the future.

As my wife and I were sitting on the beach and by the pool, I was blown away (though not surprised) by the number of people of all ages who were constantly glued to their smartphones.

I could tell most of them were not just taking photos or videos, they were doing emails and/or interacting with Facebook, Instagram, and other social media apps.  Many of them were just with their swimsuit and smartphone. Some were standing on the beach with their feet in the ocean and their eyes glued to their smartphones.

It was the same way at the restaurants during breakfast, lunch and dinner – people sitting around a table, each glued to their phones in their private virtual world, consumed by what was on their screen rather than ‘being’ with the other people in their company. I would predict that in some cases they were texting and posting with each other, rather than looking each other in the eyes and having a conversation.

Why would you spend the time and money to travel away from your home to a beautiful isolated beach destination, with different scenery, climate, and atmosphere in order to merely continue with the same routine and behavior that you do at home?

And, if you take a vacation and spend the majority of your time and attention on your device, when do you actually get time to enjoy and reap the benefits of your vacation?

I am not naïve, and I pride myself on being open-minded and not judgmental. I understand the modern digital age we live in. I take part in it every day. I can’t live without my iPhone, iPad, and laptop too. I fully get it.

However, I try very hard to manage and control my smartphone usage and not allow it to manage and control my life. It seems that so many people have reached an unhealthy point, and this vacation again validated that.

In fact, it often seems to me that some people are more focused on showing off their life than just living it.

Some people may push back and say, “Being on my smart device doesn’t take away from my vacation, it enhances it,” or “It doesn’t distract me, it helps me relax.”

I don’t buy it! 

When you are consumed by your smart device, you are not fully present in the moment with the people and activities around you. It is as simple as that. We live more in our conversational worlds than in our physical worlds.

For example: Leaving behind an unresolved issue or upset at work could ruin your entire vacation because you constantly think and agonize about it. Participating in a conference call while driving your car on the highway dangerously takes your attention from the dynamics on the road because you are so consumed by your conversation.

How many times have you seen someone board a plane plugged into a conference call, speaking loudly, even about sensitive things, without any regard for the people around them?

When you are on your smartphones 60-80% of the time, you can be fully present with your immediate environment only 20-40% of the time – at best.

Don’t take this the wrong way, I value the digital transformation, I try to take the fullest advantage of technological innovations and smart devices and social media have already brought many benefits to my life.

At the same time, I also see the negative effects of technology – mainly with people being so preoccupied with their devices that it undermines their ability to relate, communicate and drive intimacy with others.

Where are you on this spectrum?

Founder and President of Quantum Performance Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations.

His work has encompassed a broad range of industries including banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, entertainment, real estate, retail, startups and non-profits.

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