Connection has been such a powerful theme in my life; it is something that I have often abused and taken for granted. We think we are more connected than ever these days, however, I feel the complete opposite.
Connections with people, places, experiences, knowledge, nature and most importantly, myself, have become such an important enabler for me to feel grounded, inspired and focused. Taking time away regularly allows me to connect, but it starts with disconnecting.
Disconnecting from my day-to-day lifestyle, routine and habits starts with choosing to unplug completely from work. Learning what I have learned through this practice, my business cannot afford for me to not disconnect while away (spoiler alert: it is not as scary as it sounds, it is good for you, and those around you will thank you for doing it).
I am not as important as I think I am
A few years ago, after coming back from probably the first vacation where I disconnected completely, a distinct and unpleasant feeling arose: disappointment. There were not as many emails, fires, issues and questions as I had expected from me disconnecting. Then a humbling thought passed my mind: I am not as important as I think I am. The world can go on, and the business does go on, without me.
In a technology business with large global customers and ambitious growth expectations, issues will come up. That is a reality. Now while away, I have found that team members will step up and show leadership in unexpected ways. Seeing people grow in this way is rewarding for me and I know they appreciate the trust felt by me choosing to disconnect while away.
I can stop fooling myself
It is easy to fool myself into thinking that everything is working just fine when I am involved in the day-to-day on a permanent basis. When I disconnect, I find out quickly what is working and more importantly, what is not working. And that allows me to focus on solving for the real issues and bottlenecks in the business that I may otherwise not be aware of.
Learning how decisions are not made while I am away has been the most interesting part of this practice. For example, I will find out that what I consider to be small decisions that may be related to customer issues, new product features, budget requests or marketing campaigns were not made because I was not involved. These are opportunities to clarify expectations with team members and empower others to keep things moving. We are all better thanks to that.
Cultivating creative insight
Creative insights are awesome. They are those “eureka!” moments that I often crave but rarely enjoy while connected to work. The thing about developing creative insights is that they cannot be forced — they come up when they come up, in spontaneous and unpredictable moments. There is no email, Facebook message, blog post or YouTube video that is the source of creative insight. It is completely from within, which is such an empowering feeling.
Disconnecting from day-to-day work helps cultivate a state of mind that lends itself to spitting out bigger creative insights about my business. It is about giving my thinking brain a break and letting my artist brain flourish. I find my thoughts are often directed towards my business, but in a far more strategic (and valuable) manner. The creative insights naturally arise, as deep down there is a part of me that is aware of the problems that I wish to think about.
Lighting a match in the wind
If I were to be connected by checking email, getting pinged on social media, reading the all-too-negative news headlines or reacting to those constant *dings* around me while away, I would be interrupting the process of real problem solving that goes on in my mind. It would be like trying to light a match in the open wind. Challenging, difficult and frustrating.
If I am a product of my environment, then it must be true for not only my physical environment but also my digital environment. Everything I consume while being digitally connected will influence me, even if it is meaningless and trivial. And clogging up my mind with the digital trash gets in the way of making space to connect to what I value more.
Stop throwing boomerangs
Disconnecting from email requires turning on my Out of Office (OOO) reply. The real reason I turn on the OOO reply is not to notify the (few) people who may email me, but to give myself the peace of mind that I am not leaving anyone hanging.
Here is the funny thing I have learned about email: they are like hundreds of tiny boomerangs. The more of them I throw (write), the more of them I catch (receive). The fewer I throw, the fewer I catch. This goes even when I may not be away. At a conference, customer events or planning sessions with the team, I am throwing and receiving fewer boomerangs.
Taking time to grow
Time away does not have to mean sitting on a beach. Time away is much bigger. It is about taking time to grow, learn, relax and connect, outside my normal way of life. For example, in the past year I took time away to enjoy Costa Rica and explore Croatia, but also took time away for a meditation course and a program at Singularity University, among other experiences.
I plan to continue to take time away and encourage those around me to do the same. It is an opportunity to cultivate a connection, be it to people, knowledge or experiences. Cultivating that ability to connect in meaningful ways is critical in a modern always on society for me. I believe the practice of disconnecting translates into deeper connections for me with my team, my customers and my community.
Taking time away has also become a way for me to connect with my vision for the business, the world I live in and most importantly, myself. Making it a consistent practice to disconnect while taking time away has been a wonderful gift to myself, one that I plan to continue to give.