I have this theory that all productivity in Washington, D.C. (and many other parts of the country) grinds to a halt in mid/late August not because of Congressional recess or family vacations, but because child care options dry up. College students head back to school and working parents with elementary school-aged children are left scrambling for options. Which is why I wised up this year and scheduled the boys’ “Camp Grammie” for late August, leaving me able to make a last minute trip to accompany my husband on his business trip to Vermont.
At first, I was grumbling over my inability to get more work done while staring out at the Green Mountains. Then I began grumbling (to myself, in a Courtyard Marriott hotel room) about my inability to get out and enjoy the amazing outdoors. Luckily by day 2, I’d struck a happy compromise with myself. Part work, part adventure, but most importantly, stop feeling guilty about my choices. I could work for 7-8 hours straight, then meet my husband for a 20 mile bike ride after work around Lake Champlain.
It got me thinking, on one of my early morning adventurous solo hikes up Camel’s Hump, about how technology has substantially changed our ability to delineate work from home (and thus vacation). Oh the delight when I reached an altitude high enough to get 2 bars on my iPhone. 26 unread emails, 2 voicemails. Who would it hurt if I just took a peek? I had created a workcation right there on third highest peak in Vermont. But was that necessarily a bad thing?
Sometimes I need the ability to completely disengage, be off the grid, and be totally in the moment. But in a high-growth small business, doing that for more than a few days really, really stresses me out. What if a client can’t reach me and decides to go with a competitor? What if the server crashes? How long will it take me to return the 500 accumulated emails? All of that worry about being entirely off the grid has the opposite of the intended effect of the vacation.
For me, the right blend is a long weekend or two (or three) throughout the year being completely unavailable, preferably where cell service is unavailable. For spring break in Florida or a week at a friend’s cabin in the summer, the ability to spend an hour or so online making sure no fires have erupted makes me feel more relaxed.
Ultimately, you have to remember that you control your technology. You can bring your laptop, or not. You can turn off digital roaming on your BlackBerry. Clearly I have a lot more autonomy and control over my day than most, but the theorem holds true: you choose when to let work creep into your time out of the office. Know what level of disengagement you need, use technology to make that happen, and enjoy the time out of the office.