Tech-Free Vacation: Why Unplugging Isn't Practical - InformationWeek

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12/23/2014
08:06 AM
Roni Amiel
Roni Amiel
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Tech-Free Vacation: Why Unplugging Isn't Practical

Many of us crave a holiday break from technology, but sometimes it's easier said than done.

Most of us probably spend more quality time connected to various devices than we do with the people we hold dear. Sure, technology is remarkable -- but nowadays we crave a break from the work emails and phone calls that consume us. But is a true break from technology really practical?

Probably not. According to a 2012 Time magazine poll, 84% of people said that they could not go a single day without their cellphones, while 68% admitted they even sleep with their phone next to them like a teddy bear.

As freeing as an unplugged holiday may seem, it's just not practical for me in my role as a CIO/CISO. Take the consequences of working in a global market. This has forced me to increase my visibility and availability, and to maintain a high level of reliability when it comes to technology assets -- all of which I lose if I vow not to check email or take work calls.

(Image: Pixabay)
(Image: Pixabay)

There's also the role I play in security and risk management. Given the rising number of security breaches -- and knowing that hackers don't always attack during business hours -- I need to be available around the clock. Finally, transformative and disruptive technologies come into play. Though they're often helpful, they also mean that CIOs are further expected to be available should problems arise. In a hospital environment, for example, these technologies might include a decision support system or a clinical intelligence solution that clinicians rely on to make patient care decisions.

[Sometimes you can't unplug even if you try. Read 7 Excuses To Avoid Family Tech Support.]

But on a more personal level, disconnecting during the holidays would also impact my interactions with friends and family -- we Skype with relatives, Facebook with friends, and engage on Twitter, for example. Disavowing technology for my immediate family means less quality time with my extended family, too.

Though some people might view technology as a burden during time off, I'm actually thankful for it. Being connected means I can take a week-long vacation and not worry that my absence might cause a catastrophe in my organization -- because people know they can reach me if they must. (Still, not once in my career have I received "the call" while away -- that notification that a critical information asset failed and was likely to impact core services. Knock on wood.)

I learned very early in my career that taking time off and staying connected is a delicate balance. If a crisis arises where I absolutely have to work, I carve out a set period of time during the day to do so. I'm also able to recognize when my presence is not absolutely necessary, and I know when to just say no.

Here's what I recommend for balancing work while on vacation: First, be proactive about scheduling and build downtime into your schedule. In that time, focus on those activities that add value, and consider outsourcing or delegating the stuff that doesn't. Finally, realize that a little relaxation goes a long way in helping you recharge.

What are your plans for managing (or avoiding) technology this vacation? Let's hear your thoughts.

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Roni Amiel has served as the CIO and CISO at the Blythedale Children's Hospital since 2011. Previously, he worked as CIO/CISO for the office of the Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York's Department of Health. He holds degrees and has completed academic programs in ... View Full Bio
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Tadahel
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Tadahel,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/23/2014 | 9:37:46 AM
Tech-free vacation - is it really impractical?
The real question here is "how much do you want to be without them", not "can you be without them".

The vast majority of IT workers aren't employed in positions where their availability may be crucial for the well-being of others (as with CIOs of hospitals or other health-care organisations). (That said, how indispensible are you really - what would happen if you had a heart-attack?) Most of us could very easily afford to simply switch off our plethora of gadgets, cut the umbilical cord, throw them in our desk drawer and walk off into the bosom of our families for the festive period. 

If you want to speak to far-off family or friends, ring them (whatever happened to the land-line phone anyway?). If they're not so far flung, go and visit them. Have first-hand relationships with those that matter in your life, not relationships-by-wire, while you're unsuccessfully multi-tasking by simultaneously watching YouTube.

When it's my turn to be President of the world I'm going to ban all electronic communication devices for 50 days per year (as a starter) and make people actually talk to each other. It'll catch on - you'll love it - just give it a go.

 

Tadahel.
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
12/23/2014 | 10:30:02 AM
Re: Tech-free vacation - is it really impractical?
you make an excellent point that being connected greatly depends on the type of profesion a person hold and their family relationship.  For me, being disconnected helps me recharge for my work week. In such cases, I try to avoid the news and connectivity all together.  I took a trip to a developing country and it made things easy because in remote towns there isn't WiFi connectivity.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
12/23/2014 | 10:32:02 AM
Leadership test
Isn't part of leadership building a strong team that can function in your absence? Even in a crisis?

If you're indispensable, maybe you're doing something wrong.
progman2000
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progman2000,
User Rank: Ninja
12/23/2014 | 10:45:58 AM
Re: Tech-free vacation - is it really impractical?
I agree with you.  As much as most people say they "need" to be connected, for work or family emergency reasons, I would wager that most spend 95% of that connected time on Facebook, Twitter or <insert-silly-mobile-game-here>.  
GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
12/23/2014 | 12:28:35 PM
Re: Leadership test
Great point, David. While I agree that C-level positions should not really ever expect to be "free" from the office (and tech) whenver they want, they should strive to be good leaders and build a team that will function in your absence. Sure, you can bust your tail and work 80 hrs a week, but the sad reality is that if you died today, the company will live on and in a couple of years, most won't even give your name a second thought (some won't even know who you are!). Don't give up your own life for a paycheck.

Best quote I ever heard "Near the end of their lives, lots of people say 'I wish I had more time with my family and friends' - no one ever says 'I wish I had spent more time at work/my desk.' "
freespiritny25
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freespiritny25,
User Rank: Ninja
12/23/2014 | 2:33:48 PM
Re: Tech-Free Vacation: Why Unplugging Isn't Practical
I agree. It is difficult to unplug when you have so many obligations. Delegation is key and I tend to unplug early in the evening on vacation and do not turn on any devices until the next morning. Any "emergency" can wait until then.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
12/23/2014 | 2:51:29 PM
Unplug time
I talked to a CIO this year who told me he got the call from the CEO that something was wrong with email on christmas eve. He took the call of course. His theory is if he is reachable, few bad things will happen. But I am not a CIO. Personally, I believe in unplugging and am lucky to work with a team that feels the same.
impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Author
12/23/2014 | 4:56:49 PM
Tech benfits of being plugged in

I do try to disconnect on vacation unless there is the true emergency. I still drop into email and read messages though I may not respond if I have an out of office message on. Reading through my emails help eliminate the advance when I return and helps me understand what needs my attention. I agree that technology is not an albatross for me, I like having my devices while I am away because they also offer great entertainment like movies, magazines, music and newspapers.

ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
12/24/2014 | 9:35:26 AM
Re: Tech benfits of being plugged in
I've learned that often being half-way plugged in while on vacation can be more disruptive than completely disconnected. People in full-speed problem-solving mode shouldn't have to wait around for my opinion rendered during breaks in my vacation activities.
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Author
12/24/2014 | 9:44:43 AM
Re: Tech-Free Vacation: Why Unplugging Isn't Practical
@freespiritny25 Not every emergency can wait, though. If an investment bank's systems go down, any delay can costs millions, even billions. And for hospital systems, there can be major consequences, as having to work around a malfunctioning system slows down communication and setups. In a life and death situation, that kind of delay can have devastating conseuqneces. But as one person really cannot be on call 24/7/52 (I hate the logical leap of 7 to 365) there has to be someone else one can call if the person is off, just like doctors get somoene to cover for them.
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