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Unplug for the Holidays

‘Tis the season to be frazzled…fa la la la laaaa la la la la…

That’s not quite how the song goes, but for a lot of us, that’s almost what it should sound like. The holidays are a wonderful time, but if you're like most people, you have about a million things going on. Work is usually enough for all of us on a regular ‘non-Holiday rush’ part of the year. So how do we all get the most out of time that’s meant to be spent recharging and strengthening our connection with those we love?

Before I get too far into this, I just want to be transparent with you: this post is just as much me talking to myself as it is to all of you. In case you wandered in here from a rogue link on a cat meme page, the author–yours truly–is an ad agency Creative Director. He’s also the resident I.T. guy, a dad (kid taxi), a son, a boyfriend, a clean freak/organizer at home, and recipient of an average 5 hours of sleep on a normal day. I needed to research and type this as much as some of you needed to hear it.

Why unplug?

There are several reasons why unplugging a little and controlling your ‘on’ time is a lot better for you than trying to be the unstoppable machine. So take that ‘S’ off your chest, sparkles. Here we go:

Burnout - According to basically any psychology or medical analysis under the sun, burnout is "a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress." And boy, is it common in the workplace. In fact, a Deloitte found that 77% of the workforce have experienced burnout. And over half of THOSE people? They’ve experienced burnout more than once. Not a shocker when you realize that 768 million vacation days went unused last year. Just in the U.S. That’s 2,104,109.6 YEARS of human recharge time flushed right down the loo.


Burnout is both dangerous for the people experiencing it AND costly for the organizations they work for. Burnt out workers are less productive, have lower morale, and tend to ultimately quit. They also like to eat unhealthily to maintain their frenetic work pace, which compounds the mental and physical toll. So now you’re saying, “Hey Dave, I’m already there. Tell me something I don’t know.” Well, it’s never too late to make a healthy adjustment, right? Lucky for you (all of us, really), taking time off to achieve the proper work life balance can help you beat burnout. It’s a conscious choice you have to make, just like eating right and exercising. It takes willpower and pays off in the long run.

Your Productivity Will Increase. As counterintuitive as it sounds, taking time off from work — like, really taking time off — makes you more productive in your work time. Why? Well…

It Refreshes Your Mind and Body. Vacations are relaxing and leave us feeling more energetic and less stressed. This, in turn, allows us to better focus on work-related tasks when we get back to the office. Disengaging from work related activities has also been proven to make us handle problems a lot better when the time comes–instead of, say, throwing the nearest stress toy from your desk/cube/station and then locking yourself in the bathroom stall to look at Twitter and rethink your life choices all the way back to lending your friend Joey that baseball card in 1st grade that became INSANELY valuable years later.

Too specific?

Changes of Pace Boost Creativity: Protip: please don’t apply this to your commute. Other drivers will probably not appreciate your ‘creative changes of pace’. Vacation time can make you more creative. Not only will a little fresh air allow you to explore new interest, it will also give you the chance to experience new people, cultures, and things. Then bring that inspiration back to work and be an all-star. Getcha game on. Go…(you’re singing it now, aren’t you?)

You'll Learn How to be More Present Time away allows you to take a step back and breathe the air. Take in colors, sights, sounds. Interact with people during this time, listen to them. Be thankful for all of that. Presence often leads to greater enjoyment, which results in more contentment and satisfaction. And when you're content in your job and life, you'll be a better employee, friend, family member, etc. Think about it: a holiday trip without the constant stresses of the office — whether you go to Fiji or Mom's house for Christmas dinner — will allow you to think about and appreciate the blessings you have in a real way. This is valuable.

How to Mentally Disconnect From Work This Holiday Season

Part of achieving a healthy work life balance is allowing yourself to take a much-deserved vacation. And what better time to vacation than during the holidays? But if the thought of spending a week or two away from the office makes you break out in a cold sweat (I feel you), don't worry.

1. Be Honest with Yourself About the Time

I’ll be real with you here, we don’t all have the luxury of completely disconnecting. If you’re the ‘big cheese’ and have to make sure the building doesn’t burn down or that equipment delivery happens for your employee’s new office, that’s alright. Just make sure it’s legit and you’re not working on things that really could wait. Trust me, a lot of it can wait and you’ll accomplish it with more efficiency and skill once you take a breather. It's also important that you relay your realistic intentions to your friends and family or whoever you'll be spending your time off with. If they don't understand that you'll be checking in on work a little, they may become agitated, which will cause you stress. Communicate how you’re balancing it all, and don’t feel guilty about it, either. That’s important.

2. Plan Ahead

The next thing you can do to mentally disconnect from work this holiday season is to plan ahead. If you know that you'll be out of the office from December 25-January 2nd (like our agency is, actually), you take steps to be ready.

First, you can let everyone at your company know the exact dates that you'll be gone. And for the sake of EVERYONE, give plenty of advance warning. It’s better for everyone’s blood pressure.

Second, Designate a contact for your company to communicate with during your absence. Fill this person (or persons) in on what you have going on and give them the tools they'll need to adequately cover for you. You'll also want to inform others, both internal and external of the temporary adjustment.

Third, craft an effective "out of office" message that can be automated to send whenever someone emails you during your holiday break. Your message should clearly indicate the dates you'll be gone and who to contact instead while you're away.

And fourth, leave your team with emergency contact details. That way they can reach you if necessary. Make sure they know what an emergency is, though. You don’t want ‘Jane left her food in the break room fridge’ emergency calls.

3. Work Ahead

I know the biggest fear I always had regarding being away for time off, is the tsunami of things I’d have to tackle upon my return. Be conscious of it that, and work ahead. The more you can get done beforehand, the less stress you’ll have. Plus you’ll probably feel a nice sense of accomplishment when you are ready to go relax.

4. Plan Your Time Off

Not everyone is a planner. Some people are explorers…improvisors. Whichever personality type you happen to have, we suggest at least a minimal amount of planning. But not the kind that will run you ragged. For example, your plan could be as simple as a bucket list of items you want to check off on your trip. This is good for people like myself, because chances are, if I have open time just sitting around, I will start to think about what I’m not working on. Here’s the deal: if work isn't in the plan to begin with, you'll be less likely to think about it and even less likely to pick up the nearest device and start checking or working on things. Which brings us to…

5. Disable Work-Related Notifications

The easiest way to get sucked into work-related activities is to not turn off work-related notifications. Our smartphones are incredibly handy tools. They are also really intrusive to every moment if you allow them to be. Ready for something kind of painful? Switch it off. Or at least silence it. Put it in the other room on a table and leave it there for a bit. Little breaks. It’s possible. It really is.

6. Plan to ‘Ease Back Into It’

Like I said above, one of the reasons people fail to take time off and overwork themselves is because the thought of returning to the office with a mountain of tasks to do is just too overwhelming. But you can also do yourself a favor by planning your return. That way you know exactly what to expect when you get back. For example, before you shut things down for some time off, plan a couple of hours to respond to emails on your first day back in the office. You could also schedule time to connect with colleagues and get updated on anything you missed.

Interruptions and sidebars are going to happen. It’s human nature for your colleagues to want to chat and catch up right when they see you. Make sure you use this planned time and don’t let it get hijacked. Politely explain your agenda for that moment, and that you’ll speak to them later. You can catch up with them at lunch, or in a separate free moment.

7. Commit to Unplugging

Finally, to really unplug from work this holiday season — or anytime, really — you have to commit to it. To achieve a proper work life balance, you need to decide, here and now, that your time off is important and that you won't let work interrupt it. Once you commit, it becomes much easier. It’s a decision. For some of us, it’s a hard one, and it takes small steps to get there, but it’s imperative to your well-being. As someone I love very much asked me once, “Are you taking time to breathe? Feed your soul. Money cannot get that back.”

If you’re already putting these things to practice, congrats! You’re doing great. If you’re not quite there yet but want to be, I’m with you. We can do this.

Author: Dave Distefano

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