Whether we like it or not, we’re more connected than ever. Continual advancements in the realm of technology - particularly relating to mobile phones - mean we’re almost constantly plugged into the world around us, responding to work emails at dinner and checking social media just before bed. In fact, the average human checks their smartphone 46 times a day and more than 50% of the mobile-owning population complete their first check as soon as they wake up. For a final sobering statistic, more people across the globe have access to mobile phones than they do toilets.
This level of access to people and information has changed the way we live: work is no longer confined to the office – nor to office hours; the majority of our interpersonal interactions take place through technology rather than face to face (even phone calls are becoming something of a dying art); and we derive a significant amount of joy from a little blue thumbs up symbol, regardless of whether we know the person who bestowed it.
While there’s little opportunity (and perhaps little desire) in the average week to disconnect from technology and reconnect with the world around us, there’s plenty of opportunity to do just that on holiday.
There’s plenty of reason to as well.
First of all, your brain is like any other part of your body in that in benefits from downtime. During downtime, when our brains have the chance to relax, wander and flit between tasks at will, energy stores are replenished, attention and motivation are increased, productivity and creativity are encouraged, memories are sorted and decoded, and solutions are found for those things in our lives we’re dissatisfied or struggling with (read this excellent article for more detail). It’s a pretty comprehensive list, and one that’s only bolstered by adding the second key reason for disconnecting from your device: taking a break from social media can benefit your mental health. It can lessen anxiety, improve relationships and increase your likelihood of getting a good night’s sleep.
Hopefully you don’t need any more convincing that disconnecting on your next holiday is an excellent thing to do and, as an added bonus, you now have a great list of justifications to forward onto your boss. Of course, convincing yourself it’s a great idea is only half the battle – the real challenge is in the follow through.
The first step in any successful disconnect is setting your boundaries and letting other people know about them. For example, can you ignore your inbox for the whole holiday or might you have to check in every few days? If it’s the former, great! Set your out of office response, make sure your co-workers and clients know and leave your laptop behind. You can even use handy little add-ons to help you along, like the ingenious Inbox Pause which allows you to stop receiving emails for a set period of time, keeping your inbox entirely clean and static.
If you have to check your email every so often, that’s ok. Just make sure you have an agreed upon timeslot for doing so (e.g. half an hour every second day) and know which emails you have to action and which you can leave for a later date. Once again, technology can actually help you here, with applications like Inbox by Gmail allowing you to automatically funnel emails into separate bundles as soon as they hit your inbox (so you don’t have to scroll through random forwards, whole-office emails and subscriptions to get to the important things) and snooze others until a later date so you don’t have to deal with them then and there but you also won’t forget them when the time comes.
Another great way to get technology on your side for your holiday-unplug is to turn off all notifications. You’re much less likely to be reminded of or feel anxious about new messages coming in if that little ding doesn’t go off and that little number doesn’t appear above an icon on your screen.
When it comes to social media, it’s also important to choose your level of disconnect. You can turn off notifications, therefore only checking your accounts on your own schedule, or you can go the whole hog and delete the apps completely. You’ll be able to download them again in a couple of minutes once you’re back in the real world but for now, on holiday, all temptation is erased.
Finally, the best way to unplug from your device is to be present and engage in everything around you. It might be your partner, friends, kids or even some fellow-minded travellers you met on route. It might also be a wonderful activity you’ve discovered at your destination – the less mobile-friendly the better. Go for a long hike, do rooftop yoga, or enjoy something fabulous at the theatre.
Trust us, your holiday will be so much more enjoyable if you can immerse yourself in it, forget about work for a while and take a break from the spell of social media. Now switch off whatever device you’re reading this on and reconnect with the big, beautiful world around you.