How I Make it Impossible to Look at Email During Vacation

This article was originally published on The Wall Street Journal‘s website.

Brian Scudamore ( @BrianScudamore) is the founder and CEO of O2E Brands, which includes 1-800-GOT-JUNK?.

We all know people who go on vacation, only to continue firing off emails and texts as they lie on the beach, neglecting their spouse and kids.

As a CEO of four brands, it’s tempting to check in all the time, but I don’t want to be that person. And I sure don’t want to be the boss interfering with my employees’ well-earned breaks. I realized that unless I unplug completely on vacation, I cheat myself out of generating fresh, new, creative ideas. In the long run, business suffers from my burnout.

I also think that if our people don’t disconnect, they end up compromising their contributions to our overall mission. More importantly, they fail at what should be their top priority: cherishing time with family and friends, and having work-life balance.

So, I’ve devised a rule when I take my annual six-week vacation: I have my assistant change the passwords on my email and social media accounts. I go dark. Nobody from work can reach me – and it’s worth noting that in the eight years I’ve been practicing this digital disappearing act, no one has really needed to reach me.

The results have been revolutionary. I come back from vacation super-charged, rested and feeling like I gave my family and friends my best self. Instead of lounging poolside wondering about to-do’s, deals and emails, I’m a million miles away from work – on self-imposed exile from the digital world.

Going dark feels surreal at first, and the withdrawal might make you feel antsy. We are a culture (literally) addicted to the little charge we get from checking our social-media accounts. For it to work, you have to develop a culture where everyone unplugs, and partner up with a colleague who’ll have your back while you’re MIA. Mine is our president and COO, Erik Church, who’s in charge of all major decisions while I’m away. When he goes dark, I cover for him.

Although getting off the grid is a respected part of our corporate culture, some people are more addicted to their devices than others. Our vice president of communications recently went away, and she finds it really hard to disconnect. Before she left, I pulled up a chair and reminded her that she should go dark on a trip with her husband for his 40th birthday, away from their young kids.

She promised she’d resist the urge … but as a backup, I met with her team to make sure they wouldn’t engage if she pinged them. Their cooperation meant a week of wine tours, brunches and total freedom. It was the first time she’d ever totally disconnected from email and forgot about work. She came back to the office refreshed and convinced that the experience was “totally worth it.” And it only worked, she added, because she had a team that she could trust.

So I challenge you: Go dark this summer. Change your passwords, leave your devices, and check out of the grind. What you’re really doing is acknowledging the capabilities of your team and the systems you have put in place.

The hardest part will be accepting that disconnecting will add value to your workplace that will never materialize if you’re constantly plugged in. If you go dark on vacation, you’ll be ready for the light when you return.

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