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Why you need a tech sabbatical when you take annual leave

How to really switch off!
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Have you got holidays coming up? Amassed some annual leave that you finally want to use? Then it’s vital that you use your leave to digitally disconnect. We cannot out-perform our biology and one of our fundamental biological needs is the need for rest!

The digital intensity of our days increased rapidly during the pandemic, resulting in a significant threat to our wellbeing and productivity. Employees are feeling fatigued, anxious and burnt out, subsequently posing threats to motivation and engagement. A study found that 69 per cent of employees are experiencing burnout symptoms and many of these symptoms can be attributed to the digital behaviours and expectations induced by remote work arrangements. A Microsoft report suggested that 39 per cent of workers are feeling exhausted and 54 per cent feel overworked. To counteract this trend, we need to take a genuine psychological break from our work and disconnecting digitally is vital to this process.

Taking a ‘tech sabbatical’ sounds easy and something many of us aspire to do, but then the reality of doing so sets in and before we know it, we’re searching for the one bar of wi-fi connection just to do a quick triage of our inbox. We start to ask ourselves – can I really unplug? Can I go a whole week (or even a few weeks) without checking my email, Teams/Slack or social media? Will my inbox be brimming with emails when I return to work?

When taking annual leave it’s a time where we (can finally) loosen our grip on emails, where our calendar isn’t chock-a-block full of meetings and where we don’t have looming digital deadlines. It really is an ideal time to unplug and reap the benefits of having a genuine psychological break from the constant digital demands that pepper our modern lives. The key step is in the preparation.

Here's five practical tips to help you digitally-disconnect during your annual leave:

1. Plan your digital disconnection – Communicate your plans to disconnect to colleagues and clients in advance. Remember to turn on your out-of-office messages on all devices (try these humorous options) – out-of-office hopefully equals ‘out of mind’!
What other simple strategies can you put in place to support your time off? Will you leave your laptop in the office and your phone at home? Try putting them somewhere you can’t see, such as in a drawer or your bag (we know that simply seeing our device can be a mental trigger to reach for it).

2. Disable notifications and alerts – Pings and alerts have been intentionally designed to hijack our attention and trick us into thinking that every notification is urgent and important. The fact that the notification bubble is typically red is intentional (it’s a colour we psychologically associate with danger, urgency and importance). Use the ‘do not disturb’ feature on your phone to send an auto reply to people calling or texting. This is a pre-written message that’ll automatically send via SMS when ‘do not disturb’ is activated to communicate that you’re not available. Rest assured – this function can be overridden by using the word ‘urgent’ in case someone does need to contact you during this time.

3. Establish a digital escalation plan – For urgent work issues that genuinely need your attention, clearly determine with your colleagues how they’ll contact you. Choose one channel by which you’ll be contacted if a genuine emergency warrants your involvement. I strongly suggest a phone call. This way there’s no ambiguity as to whether you’ve received and read the message/email. People are more inclined to message or email you, as opposed to making a phone call (there’s much more friction and intent behind calling someone on their holiday).

4. Go greyscale – Switching your phone to greyscale makes it much less psychologically appealing to use (trust me, Instagram is nowhere near as interesting in black and white). Technology has been designed to prey on our psychological weaknesses and the strategic use of colours and appealing icons drive us to reach for our screen. It’s reported that Steve Jobs said, “We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them”.

5. Keep your tech-temptations off your home screen – Worried that you may urgently need to take a phone call or use your phone to check the weather, and then you’ll see you have 327 unread emails and before you know it, you're down the digital rabbit hole? You’re not alone. Remove these temptations from your home screen by moving these apps to a folder labelled ‘Things I may later regret’. This’ll prevent you from being lured into the digital rabbit hole when you simply unlock your phone.

Give it a go and see how rejuvenated, focused and rested you feel after being unplugged. Even if it’s just for a couple of days. I’m not suggesting you need to do anything drastic and unplug for your entire annual leave, nor am I suggesting you aspire for a #digitaldetox. Complete digital abstinence is near-impossible today. However, taking some time to reduce your digital load will have a profound impact on your wellbeing, relationships, focus and motivation.

I highly recommend the book Time off: a practical guide to building your rest ethic and finding success without the stress by John Fitch and Max Frenzel, which discusses this topic in detail.

Who is Dr Kristy Goodwin?
Having personally experienced how our ‘always-on’ digital culture is compromising people’s wellbeing and is counter to optimal and sustainable performance, award-winning researcher and speaker Dr Kristy Goodwin is on a mission to promote employee wellbeing and bolster workplace productivity in an always-on digital world. As one of Australia’s digital wellbeing and productivity experts, she shares practical brain-based hacks to tame tech habits, and the latest evidence-based strategies to decode the neurobiology of peak performance in the technological era.

Senior business leaders and HR executives from the country’s top organisations engage Dr Kristy to help them promote employee digital wellbeing and performance. Her roster of clients includes Apple, Westpac, Deutsche Bank, Bank of Queensland, DLA Piper, Macquarie Bank, Westfield, Randstad, the Reserve Bank of Australia, NSW Health, Cuscal, State Street, National Broadband Network. You can find out more about Dr Kristy here.

– The Coach Place Global

Image by @PIMPAN/

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