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Work Hard, Play Hard: How to Unplug on Vacation

businessman in suit at the beach By Andrew Strieber

Smartphones, netbooks, tablets. As these portable devices become increasingly powerful and affordable, more employees are gaining the ability to ditch the office and take their jobs on the road. Combine these light and portable computers with readily available high-speed data connections, and many tasks that once required you to stay close to your desk can be accomplished from just about anywhere. Stories abound of innovative work-from-home programs and executives who need nothing more than a laptop and data connection to get things done.

While trading in a cubicle for the local coffee shop or seat by the pool may sound appealing, all this unfettered connectivity can have a serious downside. The use of smartphones and laptops can actually have a negative effect when focusing on hours, workload and downtime. After all, once an executive can work from anywhere, what's to stop them from working at any time as well? In some industries, the ability to remain wired is causing executives to routinely labor after hours or on weekends, which can lead to exhaustion and burnout. Additionally, career experts say the time that hyperconnectivity has the greatest potential to do damage to traditional work/life balance is when you go on vacation.

Vacations are meant to serve as the ultimate reset button, helping you drop out of the rat race and recharge so you can return to work with a renewed focus. However, even when you're lying in a hammock on the beach sipping a daiquiri, if you're also busy checking emails on your phone you aren't really getting a break. Without a clear separation between work time and relaxation time, your vacation may feel less like a vacation than just another business trip. In addition, spending your downtime checking emails, working on projects or dealing with the everyday stress of work doesn't just do harm to your own revitalization, it can be draining for your family and friends as well.

Of course, while most executives would love to head out of the office for two weeks and leave their phones and computers behind, the truth is that in today's economy, sometimes completely unplugging on vacation just isn't possible. Employees have to be available when needed, and the pace of business doesn't always allow for key decisions to wait for a week or more. But if you really need a break and your job doesn't allow you to disconnect, what do you do? Thankfully, there are ways to unplug from work and get the relaxation time you need. All it takes is some careful planning and a little determination.

While some employees may think they're too important to go on vacation, or that taking a break will hurt their chances of advancement, experts stress that turning off for a while is often good for your career, since "vacations help us mentally and spiritually recharge, so we can return to our businesses with new ideas, energy and focus," says Dave Morton, CEO of The Spinnaker Group, Inc. "A proper work/play balance while on vacation is key to returning home well-refreshed." So if you're ready to spend time in the mountains, lying in the sand or even just relaxing around the house, try following these 10 tips to help you unplug on vacation without hurting your job performance:

  • Plan Ahead

    Try to coordinate your vacation with co-workers so you have coverage while you're out, and pick a time that won't compromise the success of current projects. A vacation may not normally be on your radar six months in advance, but getting started early can ensure that your job runs smoothly while you're enjoying a little "me time."

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  • Designate a main point of contact

    Don't just send an "out of office" email to your company and expect co-workers to pick up the slack. Select a specific person to serve as your backup, and give them a detailed account of all your projects and work commitments a couple of days before you leave. This way if they have any questions, they can contact you prior to your vacation instead of after you've left.

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  • Leave emergency contact information

    Be sure that your main point of contact can get in touch with you when necessary. If you're worried that they will abuse the privilege and call often, make a specific list of items that constitute a genuine emergency.

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  • Leave work-related hardware at home

    Try taking as little of your office tech as possible with you, and especially items like smartphones that will allow you to be connected from anywhere. The key is to use something that discourages from working, but will still let you check email if need be.

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  • Inform key clients that you'll be out of the office

    At most companies, it's standard practice to set up email and voicemail "out of office" notifications for the period that you're away. However, it's also a good idea to also contact your major clients personally and let them know that you'll be gone. But don't let them know you'll be available in case of emergency; instead, let your point of contact determine if you need to be brought into the loop.

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  • Delegate major projects

    Ideally, you should complete any major projects before you go, so your vacation occurs during a lull in your schedule. If this just isn't possible, consider distributing tasks to your co-workers while you're gone. For solo employees without any co-workers, hiring a temporary consultant can help provide damage control until you return.

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  • Schedule your available times in advance

    If you just can't resist the temptation to check in, try to set specific times or days where you will be checking messages. Let co-workers know when they can expect to hear from you, and stick to the schedule. And when you do check emails, remember to scan their subject lines first. If the subject doesn't look important, don't even open the email – it can wait for your return to the office.

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  • Leave the phone in your room

    Worried that you won't be able to resist a quick peek at your work accounts while waiting for desert? Try leaving your phone in your luggage or locked in a hotel safe. Doing this ensures that you won't accidentally lose your phone, and is also a great way to prevent yourself from cheating on your relaxation time. It's easier to concentrate on family and friends without a phone buzzing in your pocket.

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  • Trust your co-workers

    Even if an office emergency arises while you're on vacation, it doesn't necessarily mean you have to drop everything and jump into work mode. Try to let your point of contact troubleshoot the issue first, and only involve you as a last resort. By letting your co-workers manage the issues, you can build up their confidence and show your trust in them – and often seemingly important issues get resolved by themselves anyway.

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  • Consider "cutting the cord"

    If you really want to guarantee that your vacation will be quiet, your best bet is to leave your electronics at home. You can then borrow or pick up a prepaid mobile phone to get around while away, and you can use it to check in with the office, too – but on your terms, not theirs.

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Andrew Strieber is the Producer of and

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