How to Completely Unplug from Work While on Vacation

Keyboard, journal, pen, and mouse on pink desktop.

I went on vacation this year and once again, I didn’t check email and social media. I started this practice somewhat spontaneously a few years ago, however now that I’m a pro at unplugging from work, I have become more intentional about it.

As I always do, I made sure projects were wrapped up, sent my clients ample out-of-office notices, as well as personal email follow-ups if necessary, and turned on my email auto-responder.

Since I had already deleted social media apps from my phone earlier in the year, the social media aspect was taken care of: I had zero digital distractions, notifications, or other FOMO reminders for a week.

I didn’t miss out on any emergencies or opportunities. I was fully relaxed. I came back feeling recharged and excited to get back to work.

As I mentioned above, you do need to prepare yourself for complete detachment during vacation—both to manage client expectations and give yourself peace of mind.

Preparing to Unplug from Work

Alert contacts well ahead of time

For projects that are in progress—especially those that are time sensitive—alert your clients and colleagues as far ahead as possible of your travel plans (and plans to be offline). Set expectations for your availability (or in this case, unavailability) and when you plan to return messages.

Send an out-of-office email

For clients or colleagues who don’t have active projects, a simple out-of-office email should be enough to give them a heads-up if something comes up in your absence.

Send a follow-up before leaving

Sometimes that out-of-office email gets lost or forgotten by the time you leave, so send a quick reminder before you leave to contacts with active projects.

Hire a VA (virtual assistant) if necessary

On a recent vacation, I included my VAs contact info in my out-of-office message. This way, if anything urgent came up, she could reach me easily.

Clean up your desk

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like coming back to a messy desk. I always tidy up my desk and folders to make the day back to work as calm and peaceful as possible.

Tips for Staying Unplugged

So, you’ve wrapped things up at the office. Now it’s time to hit the road—unplugged. I know that disconnecting from work is hard, so I came up with a few strategies to keep digital distractions at bay while on vacation.

Turn on your email auto-responder

Be clear about when you will be back and in the office and return messages. And if you’re feeling creative, write a clever message (“I’m out of the office and on the beach getting inspired.”)—it will temporarily distract any emailers who are anxious to reach you.

Turn off notifications on mobile devices

I know this is hard—just turn ‘em all off. And know that you can turn them back on when you return—if you want to. I actually waited several weeks post-vacation before I turned notifications back on my iPad (I had gotten used to the break!)

Don’t check email

Seriously, do not even peek! If you have properly prepared and alerted your clients and colleagues, whatever is there can wait.

Don’t check social media

Trust me, you can live without Facebook and Instagram for a week. Resist the urge to “just post this one pic” and instead enjoy the moments in real life as they are happening.

Don’t take your digital devices with you everywhere

Don’t keep your device on the bedside table. Leave your phone at home when you hit the beach or go sightseeing. Do whatever works to resist the urge to peek.

Turn off your Wi-Fi

Remove your access to the online world. This is my strategy when I want to read an eBook without being tempted to check social media.

Let your phone run out of batteries

If all else fails, force your phone to be unusable and “forget” to bring your charger with you.
And now that you’ve successfully unplugged, here are a few strategies for getting back in tune with analog life:

Read a book or magazine

Remember those? It helps to read something that is not related to work. I brought a marketing magazine with me on vacation and quickly put it away when I realized it was messing up my vacation vibe.

Listen for nature’s rhythms

While we were on vacation, I sat and listened to the rhythm of an automatic sprinkler, the turning on and off of an air conditioner, the chirping of birds, and palm leaves blowing in wind. (Would I ever do this at home—nope!)

Observe your environment

I took photos of the same palm trees every day, observing how the different time of day presented a different type of light or color of sky. (Again, good luck finding time to do this at home).

Start a creative challenge

My kids and I started a 100 Day Challenge while on vacation (#100DaysofDrawingTogether). It was a great excuse to sit and draw together each night.

Why it’s Worth It to Take a Break

I will admit that during my unplugging there was the occasional pang of “Should I just take a quick peek?” As a long-time small business owner (going on 20 years), it’s hard to completely detach from my business.

But I’m glad I didn’t cave, because upon my return to the working world, what did I miss out on? Exactly nothing. Instead, my clients eagerly welcomed me back and I was refreshed and ready to hit the ground running.

Vacations offer a physical—as well as emotional—break. They offer a chance to slow down and notice things you normally miss due to the everyday rush and distractions. The fact that more than half of American workers don’t use up their vacation days tells me that we need to take a break now more than ever.

So go ahead and take a break—you deserve it. The only downfall of doing a digital detox for a week: it took me 2-1/2 hours to process all my emails—but it was fully worth it.

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