This Saturday, my wife and our twins and I head off for a week in the most magical place on earth. No, not Tijuana -- I'm talking about Disney World. As we start to pack the suitcases, I find myself debating whether or not to pack something else which I've come to consider very important -- my connectivity.Once upon a time (though perhaps not so long ago), your job/career/work started around 9 a.m. You worked right through the day, taking your lunch and a couple of breaks here and there. Come 5 p.m., you were out the door, leaving your desk and duties in the darkness until the next morning.
The end of this fairy tale should come to no surprise to anyone...times have changed. The dawn of instant Internet access has transformed nine-to-fivers into 'round-the-clock monsters. Thanks to high-speed cable modems in our homes and wireless access in the local Starbucks, we're able to be in touch with the office anywhere and anytime. And I mean anytime (honestly, who hasn't checked or responded to a work-related e-mail at 2 a.m.)?
Ask anyone why they would be crazy enough to bring a laptop, BlackBerry. or some other device with them on a so-called 'relaxing getaway' and the reasons they offer are not all that hard to justify to yourself:
"I just can't bear the thought of all those e-mails waiting for me when I get back." Who doesn't? Even after a long weekend, I get nauseous as I open up my inbox, knowing full well the deluge of messages awaiting me. Most of that first morning back is spent weeding through the spam, trying to make sure I don't accidentally delete an actual message mixed in between them, and then responding. So in order to avoid the tidal wave of messages, it's not that hard to rationalize a couple of quick log-ons from the bungalow.
"What if something goes wrong?" Ah, yes -- you're paranoid that some inexplicable crisis will come up and without your input, things will crash and burn. Even worse, when you return you'll have to pick up the ugly pieces. Worse still, you worry that everyone will blame you for what happened. By checking the inbox once or twice (OK, three or four times), you'll be able to jump right on any crisis that comes up, offering a helping hand or sage advice to everyone back at the fort.
"What if everything goes right?" Then there's the polar opposite: That nagging worry that when you come back, no one will have missed you. Decisions were made without your input and the well-oiled machine kept right on rolling. Keeping your fingers on the pulse of the office makes you feel a little more secure about your job -- and that it will be there when you get back.
But that's the nature of the beast we've created. We've convinced ourselves that because we can check e-mail from home -- or in this case, a vacation -- we SHOULD. We've forgotten that our work is just one small aspect of our lives, and not the other way around. By convincing ourselves that we should stay in touch with the office, we deprive ourselves of the much needed unwind. So what if things explode while you are gone? If your team is capable, they will handle it. And if you're that worried that no one will miss you while you're away, then maybe you've got bigger issues at hand.
We deserve our vacations. We deserve the break. And it's not fair for anyone to make you feel otherwise -- least of all yourself.
Back to my own pre-trip jitters -- my wife was skeptical, and justifiably so, when I told her the only tech I would be bringing was my iPod and the cell phone. Frankly, I don't think she believes I can survive without virtually checking in just once. But that's what I've committed myself to do -- for good or bad, regardless of the insurmountable number of messages waiting for me when I return, I'm leaving them right where they are: in the inbox. When I come back we'll see if I revel in or regret the decision.
How about you? Do you find it impossible to disconnect from the office while on vacation?