How I took a week off work and completely disconnected

Mathilde Collin

Mathilde Collin,

CEO & Co-founder at Front

6 May 20220 min read

I just took a week off for my wedding, and despite a lot going on with Front (including the roll out of our most significant product update), I didn’t talk about work or check my emails or Slack once in 10 days.

Software is eating the world. The whole world — meaning it’s eating vacation too. The only true vacation, by definition, requires that one completely disconnects from work, but with more communication apps than ever before, more cell phone coverage, data and power, it’s very hard to actually disconnect for an extended period of time. Unless you’re extremely deliberate about it, and that’s what I do.

I just took a week off for my wedding, and despite a lot going on with Front (including the roll out of our most significant product update), I didn’t talk about work or check my emails or Slack once in 10 days. It’s possible to be a busy professional and still find ways to disconnect and recharge 😊

Here is why and how I do it.

Why I do it

There is a huge disconnect between how we should approach vacation time, and how we’re actually handling it. At a personal level, I know I need to balance a demanding work life with peaceful, recharging time spent with friends and family. I’ve learned that I usually need two days of not working before I’m able to let go of work and be fully present.

Beyond my own inclination, the benefits of disconnecting from technology and giving your brain a chance to rest are well-known. Just like a muscle, your brain gets tired when it’s working hard. Research suggests not working more than 50 hours per week, and taking restful vacations. Vacation could even make you more efficient at work! An internal audit conducted by Ernst & Young found that employees who use more vacation days end up with better performance reviews. It’s unclear to me whether better-performing employees could afford the luxury of a vacation, or whether vacationing turned them into better employees, but either way, you should want to be in their group, not the other 😉

Finally, as a leader, I know people will emulate my behavior. After all, if “the boss” can respond to email during their honeymoon vacation in the middle of the Sahara desert, who has a good excuse for not doing so — right? I want to avoid that line of thinking entirely, and make sure my coworkers actually have the option to fully disconnect.

Yet even with all these reasons we have to disconnect regularly and fully, in practice we’re terrible at it. The situation is aggravated in the US, where even though the number of allotted days for paid vacation is significantly lower than in comparable countries, more than half of us don’t use them all! And when we do, 62% of us “regularly check in with work” while vacationing.

I’m fascinated by this inability to disconnect. If you care about your well-being, your performance at work, and the overall efficiency of your team, you should reconsider the way you approach vacationing.

How I do it

  • A couple of weeks before, I started looping colleagues into projects and conversations so they had context to act on my behalf while I was out of the office.

  • I set clear expectations with the team that I would not be checking email. If something really urgent needed my attention, they knew how to reach me other ways (texts).

  • I gave my assistant full access to my email inbox (thanks to Front 😉) so she could handle or assign all incoming messages in my absence.

  • I logged out of Front and Slack on my phone and computer to make it slightly less convenient to check in, thus removing the temptation entirely.

And then, I left and didn’t check in at all. This is really easier than people think. It’s become second nature to check your email while waiting for a Lyft, waiting for your dinner to arrive, or just because you’re bored. But if you planned it right, and trust that nothing dramatic will happen because you’re offline, the newfound peace of mind is amazing.

And the result? I came back to work refreshed, ready to focus, and happy that I was able to be fully present in my personal life. And because I empowered and trusted my team to act on my behalf, everything was handled. That’s the beauty of teamwork!

So if you’re taking time off these upcoming holidays, I really encourage you to actually take it OFF. Plus, if you’re a leader, you’ll set a great example for your team.

P.S. if you’re looking for out of office message ideas, you can check this.

Written by Mathilde Collin

Originally Published: 16 November 2018

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