The Benefits of Unplugging

Quitting something “cold turkey” is very difficult to do, unless the thing you are quitting is no longer available. There are 168 hours in a week. If we get an average of 7 hours of sleep per night, that leaves 119 waking hours. So, if we are working 40 hours per week, it is one-third of our waking hours.

But for many of us, we may be “on-line” much more than that. Maybe at work 10-11 hours per day, looking at emails coming in throughout the evening. Maybe getting on the computer after dinner to work on a few things. Before you know it, we’re easily up to 60-80 hours per week looking at work, thinking about work, communicating with co-workers. Maybe 50% to 70% of our waking hours each week.

So, how do we all of a sudden “unplug” from all of that when we take time off? Twenty years ago, it wasn’t a problem, since mobile devices were pretty rare. Our predecessors only a few years ago didn’t have the technology to get on-line and do work equal to being in the office.

About fifteen years ago, I was on a sales call with a salesman from our London UK office. The prospect we were visiting was an engineering manager from a global food company. He had just come back from a six week mandatory “holiday”, which was required by his company. Apparently, every ten years or so, managers at a certain level were required to disconnect for six weeks. The primary purpose was not because they needed the break, but it was to give subordinates the chance to show if they were prepared to move up. The manager was graded on how well he had trained and mentored his subordinates and his own career opportunities were dependent on how well his team did in his absence.

I wonder how mobile communication technologies impacts the development of our personnel. If we do not have the communication technologies available, it forces our subordinates to take on a higher role; to have a trial run at managing without the day-to-day guidance, moral support, or simply relying on the supervisor to make the difficult decision.

So as I am sitting here on a beautiful morning, looking out at the sun shining on blue Lake Michigan waters, a few thoughts come to mind. I am thankful to have a management team that allows me to take time off without interruption, and without worry on my part. I am aware of, but not surprised at my inability to not look at emails throughout the day, to check in and see what is going on, and to make a few calls to offer advice. I know I need to reduce the frequency that I look at my cell phone.

And I know that I have not been fair, supportive or simply a better leader at insisting that my management team has the same liberty that I do in unplugging. 

It’s an opportunity to improve.

“To amuse oneself in order that one may exert oneself, as Anacharsis puts it, seems right; for amusement is a sort of relaxation, and we need relaxation because we cannot work continuously.” 
Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics

“If you relax your mind, it can begin working for you.” 
Bryant McGill, Simple Reminders: Inspiration for Living Your Best Life