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.
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>.  
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
12/29/2014 | 9:19:32 AM
Re: Tech-free vacation - is it really impractical?
Progman2000,

While that maybe true at Lower Executive Levels it is'nt the case at Higher Levels(VP Level & C-Level )which we are primarily discussing here.

For those at the Lower Levels ;they just need to discipline themselves better if they are to achieve something concrete from their Professional Lives today.
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.
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.
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.
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
12/27/2014 | 1:59:39 PM
Re: Tech-Free Vacation: Why Unplugging Isn't Practical
@Ariella: Since you say staying in a job 24/7 isn't possible, still I have seen people stressed out from late night calls for attending the premises. There should be a healthy work life balance and if night shift isn't possible, outsource this work to a part of the world that is having daylight.
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Author
12/27/2014 | 6:07:33 PM
Re: Tech-Free Vacation: Why Unplugging Isn't Practical
@SachineEE As I said, one needs a backup person for when the main one can't get there like doctors set up. The problem is the backup may not be as dedicated as the main guy. I used to have a single doctor practice for my kids. When he went away on vacation, he referred us to another practice. But when I called for my kid to be seen for a sick visit, they refused to see her b/c they wanted to close us soon. (Ironically, the place was only a block away, and we would have been ther in plenty of time). This was before Urgent Care places started springing up in my neighborhood like mushrooms after rain. 
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
12/29/2014 | 9:07:25 AM
Re: Tech-Free Vacation: Why Unplugging Isn't Practical
Ariella,

The Idea behind a Backup is just that.

They should be able to do the job in case the Main Guy is unavailable or not upto the mark in either case.

So did your Backup deliver?

If the Backup is a makeshift so be it;After all they are meant to be there just temporarily(while you wait for the Main Guy to landup or search for another new Main Guy).

 
impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Author
12/29/2014 | 4:27:24 PM
Re: Tech-Free Vacation: Why Unplugging Isn't Practical

 

In a life or death type of business I think it's most practical to have a backup that tis not on vacation. If we rely on someone that is travelling for those types of issues the consequences could literally cost someone their life. Creating an infrastructure of command when someone is away is the best way to handle those issues.

Angelfuego
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Angelfuego,
User Rank: Ninja
12/29/2014 | 7:53:40 PM
Re: Tech-Free Vacation: Why Unplugging Isn't Practical
I realize it may not be practical for all of us to unplug, but it is so worth the effort for those that can do it. I've done it before and is was really worth it. I came back much more refreshed. My job didn't require me to check my email, but I felt the urge to check my personal emails. I resisted the urge and have to say that I had a very relexing break and was less stressed. The longer I abstained from checking my email and from sending emails, the easier it became.
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
12/30/2014 | 12:56:45 AM
Re: Tech-Free Vacation: Why Unplugging Isn't Practical
Impactnow,

Have to agree entirely with your Sentiments here.

These kind of Life and Death Situations demand the highest amount of attention and care (which can't be provided by a Temp Backup).

This is where creating a workable Infrastructure of Command ensures that no avoidable tragedy happens(or circumstances force such a situation).
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
12/27/2014 | 2:04:57 PM
Re: Tech-Free Vacation: Why Unplugging Isn't Practical
@freespiritny25: I also think that where there are obligations, having a full disconnected term may feel insulting to others, especially your superiors who would then ask you about your dedication towards the company and probably rebuke you if your answer is less than satisfactory.
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
12/29/2014 | 8:59:07 AM
Re: Tech-Free Vacation: Why Unplugging Isn't Practical
SachinEE,

I don't think your Superiors will rebuke you if you decide to take sometime off.

You just have to learn to manage the Expectations better of your  Seniors so that they know that even though you are on Vacation you can always be counted on to Deliver whatever you promised to deliver.

By Full Disconnection-does'nt mean that you are unavailable on the Phone.If you put that at the back of your mind (and give your seniors that assurance) things can be managed much-much better.

 

 
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.
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
12/27/2014 | 2:01:49 PM
Re: Tech benfits of being plugged in
@impactnow: Whenever I go on holidays I too don't like to be disconnected, however that doesn't mean I would take each and every call from my work. I would only take the call if my boss or some other employee with the same, or greater rank than my boss calls, would I pick up the phone and answer, and not on all hours as well. I generally tell my staff to not call me at odd hours.
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
12/29/2014 | 9:14:08 AM
Re: Tech benfits of being plugged in
ImpactNow,

For that to happen you have to incredibly disciplined (otherwise you risk turning your Vacation/Break) into a Working Holiday instead.

I know it can be done but just that it is'nt for everyone concerned.

Not everyone can achieve that perfect level of Work-Life Balance (especially on Vacation).

Those that can?Have achieved a very high level of Efficency.
asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
12/27/2014 | 5:08:34 PM
That's why you get paid the big bucks
"As freeing as an unplugged holiday may seem, it's just not practical for me in my role as a CIO/CISO."

 

Nor should it be given that you are paid far above and beyond a rank and file employee salary.
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
12/29/2014 | 12:03:51 AM
Re: That's why you get paid the big bucks
asksqn, no matter how important a person to an organization or how much they earn, they still deserve a break. Even the president of the United States takes vacations. He may not "unplug" entirely, but he gets away from DC at least. Recreation, hobbies, family times --- they all can go a long way to recharging a battery and allowing someone to be more creative and effective when they return to work.
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
12/29/2014 | 9:02:50 AM
Re: That's why you get paid the big bucks
Broadway,

I don't think the President is the right comparison-Obama seems to be on permanent vacation!

LOL!One has to actually wonder when he works].

But your point about everyone needing breaks to recharge is very valid today(more than ever).

So many of us are so badly stressed today its a wonder more of us have'nt snapped yet!

Technological Overload is no misnomer.Its a real and very serious condition today.

 

 
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
12/29/2014 | 9:22:33 PM
Re: That's why you get paid the big bucks
Ashuu, that is too funny. It certainly depends on your political persuasion when it comes to presidents and vacations because I am sure plenty of people would take your Obama sentence and replace his name with his predecessor's!

But you're right about tech overload. Information is coming at us in so many ways, at such speeds.
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
12/30/2014 | 12:48:37 AM
Re: That's why you get paid the big bucks
Broadway,

The thing that upsets most Obama fans about him is that he Promised to be so much different (from the Typical DC insider) but eventually he turned out to be the same .

I am no big fan of Bush Junior but atleast he spent most of his Vacations on his Ranch(at Minimal Taxpayer Expense);With the Obamas in contrast its just one Grand Million Dollar Vacation after another...

Surely,There is a better use of Taxpayer Resources than this Extravagance?

As far as Tech Overload goes its very much a relevant theme today and its also why you have Internet De-Addiction Clinics sprouting up all over the Globe(but especially in all those Broadband /High-Speed Hotspots like South Korea).

 
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
12/30/2014 | 9:30:25 PM
Re: That's why you get paid the big bucks
Internet De-Addiction Clinics? I am in the wrong business! Are these legit operations or simply snake oil salesmen who are taking advantage of the latest addiction fad? Can families have a member committed to one of these clinics if they become too terribly annoying with their mobile activities?
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
12/31/2014 | 7:55:12 AM
Re: That's why you get paid the big bucks
Broadway,

This is a legitimate Business oppurtunity all across Asia today[India,China and South Korea]-

More HERE-timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/Delhi-gets-its-first-internet-de-addiction-centre/articleshow/38824454.cms&news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4327258.stm

From one of the Articles-counsellors and psychologists guide children as young as 10 years old to participate in activities such as indoor games and engage in conversations with each other.


These are most definitely a series of Legitimate Operations.


If you think its that easy to disconnect from the Internet why don't you try it yourself just for a weekend? LOL!!!

Believe me it ain't easy!

Even here in America,I have heard of many such "Super-Private" Clinics especially in California that handle this critical issue.You can also see here
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
12/31/2014 | 10:33:01 PM
Re: That's why you get paid the big bucks
I have tried disconnecting from the Internet before. I can disconnect from email pretty easily, definitely FB and Twitter too. No problem. It's reading online that is a problem for me, as I digest most of my newspaper material now online.
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
1/1/2015 | 6:53:55 AM
Re: That's why you get paid the big bucks
Broadway,

I also happen to be in the same boat.

Have u tried compartmentalizing your Information access?[When you are accessing News ,you view only News no Social Media,No Email ,No Chats???].

That seems to work for me.

Problem with Social Media (for me personally) is that I waste too much valuable time there whenever I go online.

So I avoid it as much as I can.
kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
12/29/2014 | 11:29:33 AM
tech free enough
Be available but not too available. As a freelancer I have to set hours where I respond to email/phone calls, especially when I'm vacationing. If I'm needed i'm there but no one expects me to drop what I'm doing to serve them. Let them know you're not actively working that week so hopefully they only contact you in an emergency.

I'm not sure I could really ever go tech free on vacation unless the location itself was not connected. Skype, little app games to unwind from the realitives, and a healthy need to read everything about the destination migt hamper that. But if I can get it so the tech is helping me enjoy my downtime not adding to my burden (like the sheer amount of suitcases it takes to get my family anywhere.) Then that's tech free enough.

 
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