Did you get to take a vacation this summer? For nine days, I relaxed in Italy and Greece. It was a pure pleasure vacation, a rarity for many individuals and definitely for small-business owners.
As an American traveling abroad it made clear what we’ve always suspected: we consistently take less time off than our European counterparts. When we do manage to build in a few days off, the challenge then becomes, how do you unplug? For small-business owners this is an even more daunting task.
A recent survey found that half of small-business owners (48 percent) miss summer vacations due to a fear of unplugging. This same survey also revealed that even when these entrepreneurs do take a vacation, 45 percent find it hard to relax because they constantly think about how their businesses are doing.
So how did I disconnect? First of all, I made the trip a priority given what it took to get there: it was the first vacation I took since college that was truly “my own.” For the first time as a working adult I realized I had both time and the means to make it happen. Simply acknowledging this put me in the mindset that I could afford to take time off from work for more than just a few days.
Second, and entirely more practical, I found myself keeping my device in the “off” position simply to avoid exorbitant roaming charges. As a working mother, however, the voice in my head saying “what if my girls try to contact me and I miss it!” kept me from being as off the grid as I would have liked (even though I knew that they were perfectly fine and well cared for). Regardless, this was as close to a technology sabbatical as I’ve ever experienced.
I sense I am not alone in the feeling that we may be hitting a digital overload. Seeing my own twin daughters start to become lost in technology leaves me with an uneasy feeling. There is no denying it: our children are part of the iGeneration. While I support using the technology that can make our lives more productive, and even built my company based on developments in matching algorithms and mobile innovations, we need to find better ways to manage our relationship with this constant onslaught of information.
Human interaction is still vital for healthy relationships both in the home and the workplace. At home we put technology away for dinner and try to put them away at restaurants, but the temptation to simply ask Siri a nagging question can come up while we’re sitting around the table.
It’s worth holding some of the same standards you might enforce with friends and family when managing employees: When is it time to tuck away your devices to truly focus on the task at hand? During the work day we’re bombarded by a series of alerts across multiple devices. The distractions can be overwhelming -- wasting time, energy and attention on often entirely unnecessary interactions (”time to log your lunch!” or “remember to stand up!”).
A recent report from research firm Information Overload Group found that U.S. workers waste as much as 25 percent of their time due to technology distractions at a cost of billions of dollars annually. Aside from the massive loss of productivity there is the very real phenomenon of technology addiction. It’s worth taking the time to think about at what level the way you interact with your device goes from an amazing way to stay efficient and creative to simply a compulsive behavior.
Looking back on my recent travels, I experienced to some extent what could be called a “digital detox” even if only partially. I returned with a heightened awareness of when my technology was bringing me closer to the tasks at hand, and when it was simply a distraction.
Although I didn’t manage to unplug 100 percent, it was a great time to reflect on how I will chose to use technology to its greatest extent going forward both as an entrepreneur, a parent and within my time as dental professional working with patients. Speaking of, do you know how hard it is to treat a patient with a phone stuck to his or her face?