The Art of Unplugging

In this field, it’s our job to be plugged in at all times. Not only do we need to know what’s going on in the world to do our jobs well, most of us like having our fingers on the pulse of the media. We’re such avid consumers of media on and off the clock that it’s hard to imagine life without that constant awareness—what if something major happens while we’re not paying attention?

I’m here to tell you it’s OK—even recommended—to take some time away from continuous media consumption. I just spent two weeks overseas without internet and it was great. Fine, I’ll admit that it wasn’t a solid two weeks without internet—I did get on every few days to delete emails and make sure the world hadn’t exploded while I was unplugged. But that was key to my successfully stress free vacation and relatively painless return to work.

When I scheduled my vacation, I was determined to make it a proper vacation: no bringing a laptop or tablet, no replying to emails and no updating social media while away. I was largely successful. And it felt good.

Arriving back at the office a little jet-lagged and confused at how quickly and yet slowly two weeks can pass, I felt energized and ready to get back to work. Sure, I spent my first hour back at my desk sorting through emails, but it wasn’t bad. Here’s how I unplugged just enough to enjoy my vacation and not be overwhelmed upon my return to work:

  • To avoid that obligation of responsiveness hanging over my head while I was away, I sent an out of office message that in no way indicated that I would be reading, let alone replying, to emails. Once I was back in the office, I ended up replying to almost everyone who had emailed me. But at least while I was away, I knew they weren’t expecting a response and that gave me the peace of mind I needed to really relax.
  • To get through airport security faster—and to lighten my luggage—I didn’t bring a laptop or a tablet, just my phone. It made the journey itself less hectic and made me less likely to get online while I was away because my phone had to stay in airplane mode the whole time.
  • But I did check my email—sometimes. I’m subscribed to a lot of email newsletters, so a couple of times while I actually had internet access, I deleted stuff from my inbox that I wouldn’t need to return to and flagged for follow-up the things that I would. I did not, however, reply to a single email. I certainly would have if it had been truly urgent, but I knew I could rely on my out of office message to direct people where to go in my absence. I shudder to think what my first day back at the office would have been like if I hadn’t taken just a few minutes to declutter my inbox.

The best part of this vacation by far was the freedom from media and technology. I used my phone to take pictures, but I got so used to not using it that for the second half of the vacation, I didn’t even carry it because I kept forgetting to charge it. I found myself far more in-tune with my immediate surroundings and the people I was spending time with. But let’s be honest: I missed reading the news. It felt weird to not know what was going on in the larger world. I’m glad to be back at it, reading articles, watching videos and listening to podcasts.