It’s confession time. Did you take a vacation this summer? And if you did, did you get away? I don’t mean did you get out of town or do a “staycation.”  I mean did you really “get away” mentally as well as physically?

no technology

Chances are your answer is no. With smartphones in our pockets and tablets in our carry-on bags, we take our work with us now. According to recent research by The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 88% of American adults have a cell phone, 57% have a laptop, 19% own an e-book reader, and 19% have a tablet computer.  The center also reports that although internet usage has leveled off, adults who are already online are spending more and more time there.

Distraction by technology at work

By the time we reach middle age, those of us who are frequently distracted by technology at work can show the same symptoms of burn-out as air traffic controllers, according to David Meyer of the Brain, Cognition and Action Lab at the University of Michigan.

In the book Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age by Maggie Jackson, Myers notes that we should not use the popular phrase “multi-tasking” because he says there are very few things that humans can do at exactly the same time. We think we can read and respond to emails while talking with a client on the phone, for example, but both activities use the language channels in the brain which are unable to process all the information from the two at the same time.

The problem is that many of us are trying to multi-task too much of the time, and we are doing it with the technology we keep at our fingertips. Between work demands, social media and gaming, we are just about always connected. Maybe you can handle that constant stream of information just fine on a regular basis. Maybe it even energizes you. Experts say however, that whether we realize it or not, we all need some down time.

To get that down time in today’s world, you have to power down those devices in order to power up the rest of you. How do you do that when everybody you deal with is used to hearing from you on a 24/7 basis? Here are five tips for taking a much-needed technology break:

Tips for taking a technology break

1. Prioritize. Make a list of what needs your attention before you take some time off and stick to it. Too often, we get directed when we are online. We set out to check our work e-mail, and end up following a link to Facebook. Then we see a YouTube video that looks interesting, and then there’s a news article and then… An hour or more may have passed, and we still haven’t responded to those work e-mails.

2. Set up a temporary automated e-mail response. Clients won’t wonder why you haven’t gotten back to them if they know you are away from the office.  Set up an automated response for the length of your vacation with your internet provider, and – here’s the tough part – rely on it. Don’t keep checking your e-mail anyway. Another time-saver is to include in your automated message that people should re-send their e-mails to you on the date you return. When you get back to your desk after your trip, you can then delete all the e-mails that came in while you were away. Trust me, it’s freeing. You can do it.

3. Leave your devices at home. If you’re the kind of person that has trouble resisting the urge to log on for fear of missing something, make it harder for yourself.  Bring a book, not the tablet. Turn your phone off and then check it only at certain designated times for emergency messages. Better yet, if you are staying at a hotel, leave the phone at home altogether and simply leave the hotel number with family members.

4. Change your environment. It’s easier to get away from the cyber world if you are out experiencing the real world. Take this time to explore nature with an outdoors-oriented getaway. Rafting, hiking, or hanging out at the beach are all good options to clear your head from all that technology. Take the time to breathe and to enjoy the fresh ideas that will come to you when you have a new perspective.

5. Rest.  Being available all day every day can suck the life out of us. We forget how to relax and really enjoy a conversation, a great meal, a good book, or a sunset. Technology, like many things in our modern world, is both a blessing and a curse. To be able to do our work from home or to never miss an important call is a blessing. To be on call all day every day is a curse.

Benefits after taking technology break

After you’ve gotten the hang of taking a break from technology, you’ll start to see the benefits. Your work productivity will go up, and your personal relationships will strengthen. The next step is to disconnect on a regular basis.  Good luck!

Sources: The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project

Jackson, Maggie. Distracted: Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age published by Prometheus Books, June 1, 2008.