We take vacations to get away from it all, to rest, to see new things, and to learn about different cultures. A digital vacation is slightly different.
It’s a retreat from technology. And it doesn’t happen often enough.
As knowledge workers, we tend to spend a significant portion of the day (and night) in front of one screen or another.
And if you work remotely, like me, that means you can work on projects anywhere in the world. This means that you probably can work around the clock — and do that all too often.
If you’re a freelancer or a consultant, forget about it! You have a perfect storm for not being able to turn off.
Not only do you spend your time hustling for work or working to deliver results for your clients, but you probably work on projects you really like. This makes it even harder to turn off.
There’s very little stopping us except discipline, and sometimes, our own physical and mental limits.
The guests I interview on my podcast, Collaboration Superpowers, frequently talk about the difficulty in disconnecting:
If you’re the type of person who enjoys what they do, work could just consume you if you let it.
— Jeremy Stanton, CTO and Co-Founder at Kali, LLC
I can do almost all of my work anywhere. And I love my job so it’s easy to always work.
— Marion Smits, Associate Professor and Neuroradiologist at Erasmus MC, Rotterdam
I think that many people who end up being freelancers are really people who are workaholics.
— Anna Nachesa, Software Developer at Google
We all know that taking regular vacations is healthy. But I’ve found that many people don’t recognize that a digital vacation is something different — and we need those too.
So in this article, I’m going to help you understand:
- What a true digital vacation looks like
- Why you might need one…and not even realize it
- How to recognize the signs that your digital vacation is overdue
I’m also going to reveal what my own digital vacation looks like, including how I build in steps to reduce the toll it takes on the rest of my work life (and how you can do the same).
Let’s get started!
What does a digital vacation look like?
A digital vacation essentially means getting away from our screens and the near-constant flow of information, alerts, questions, and updates.
When we put aside our phones, tablets, computers, and televisions, we get to spend time doing other things. We suddenly have space and time for cooking, listening to music, spending time outside, reading (physical books), exercising, all those things we used to enjoy before 2007 when smartphones began invading our pockets.
Work-life balance is a slippery slope because you can get stuck in this point where you’re always on and you never unplug. But that’s a matter of self-management. And part of managing ourselves is setting strict boundaries and guidelines for what’s okay and what’s not okay.
— Phil Montero, Systems Engineer at The Garam Group, LLC
When I read about the negative effectives of hyper connectivity, internet addiction is almost always mentioned. I certainly feel the addictive quality myself.
I often vow to not check my phone first thing in the mornings, but find myself slipping again and again.
How often have you vowed to not check your phone after 7pm?
Yeah, me too. It’s not easy to stick to our own boundaries — which makes it even more crucial to get away from it all.
Why would I want to take a digital vacation?
As a remote knowledge worker, I am especially connected online. Almost everything I touch is in the cloud. I love my work and feel I have a good work-life fusion so going offline is not something I feel inclined to do.
But sometimes, in order to find balance, it’s good to swing to the other extreme.
A true digital vacation lasts at least 24 hours. And at most, it lasts as long as we can stand it.
How many hours per day do you spend staring at a screen of some kind? How many times per day do you check your phone?
Honestly, I’m too embarrassed to publicly publish the answers to those questions. And I’m betting a few of you reading this can relate. One thing that turning off our devices does is make us more conscious of our digital habits.
I had the opportunity to interview one of the teams at NASA. They told me that staring into a monitor during their online meetings for prolonged periods of time made team members tired and affected performance (not to mention quality of life).
So they made a change. Now for every 50 minutes, they break for 10 and ask everyone to stand up, do something physical, and focus the eyes on something in the distance.
These hourly breaks during online meetings do wonders to reduce “virtual fatigue.”
You can apply NASA’s best practice more broadly and disconnect for more than 10 minutes. In truth, we know that staring at a monitor for 50 minutes wears us down. What we don’t exactly know is how being connected to our gadgets 24-7 is affecting us. But chances are, it’s not all positive.
What are the signs that you need a digital vacation?
Personally, I know I need a digital vacation when I start to feel frenzied, overwhelmed, stuck, overly tired, or unfocused for long periods of time.
Recognize any of those symptoms? If so, consider a short break.
If you recognize all of those symptoms, it’s time to start making plans for a serious digital vacation. Now.
As a knowledge worker, you have to combine working with getting enough rest. You have to know when you’re procrastinating and then consciously stop. Sometimes it means powering through, and sometimes it means taking a break. You need the self-knowledge to be able to take care of yourself properly.
— Maarten Koopmans, Director of Strategic Advice at Vrijeid.net
I love technology as much as the next person and I love being in touch with my friends so easily. But let’s face it, if you’re a knowledge worker, and it’s been more than 3 months since you’ve gone offline for 24 hours, it’s time to take a digital break.
Pro tips for a great digital vacation
Once you accept that you need to set aside time to disconnect, the advice is simple: “Do something that will work for you.”
Try going offline one day per week.
Try alternating days.
Try a digital detox retreat.
It’s hard to break our regular routines, so whatever will work for you, do that!
Last year, I was invited to join some friends on an alpine adventure. We set up camp for 10 days at a high-altitude campsite (i.e., cold!) with minimal facilities (no electricity or running water). From there, we would trek into the mountains for various hiking and climbing adventures.
It was the perfect opportunity to try a digital vacation. Ten days offline reinforced how important it was for me to rest, exercise, and be outside. And how important it is to free my mind from having to keep on top of everything for a little while.
I like to have a plan when I disconnect. For example, being in the mountains acts as a perfect distraction from being online. Once I’m hiking or climbing, I quickly forget about what’s happening on Twitter or how many words per day I’m supposed to be writing.
Before I leave, I set my out of office reply, inform friends and colleagues that I will be offline, and announce it on my social media. I also plan a couple of quiet days when I return so I have proper time to catch up with everything that went on while I was away.
But really, even without all the planning, it’s fine to just go offline, let the mind wander, and give it some room to breathe.
The world will go on without us and it will be there again when we get back.
We have a fear of missing out on things that might reach us through our screens — but we have to remember to go out and have experiences in the first place.
So when will you take your digital vacation?