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posted: 6/22/2014 6:22 AM

Career coach: Spending time off the grid

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Are you looking forward to your vacation knowing that you will get some real rest and relaxation, or are you dreading your break since you already have work calls and meetings scheduled while you are off?

Research indicates that time away from our jobs improves our health and job performance, while never taking time off (and being constantly connected to technology) can lead to depression, stress, sleep disorders and even an early death. Some note that it is critical for us to mentally recharge each day, having periods of "psychological detachment," when we disengage from our jobs.

This is more difficult in the digital age. Thanks to our smartphones, tablets, laptops and so on, the job follows us. A recent survey by American Express showed that 79 percent of travelers expect to be digitally connected while on vacation -- mainly to check their email and send text messages.

Some of us are so attached to our phones that we're convinced they're ringing or buzzing even when they're not (dubbed the "phantom-vibration syndrome" by researchers).

All of which means we need time to disconnect more than ever. We especially need holidays that free us from email. We need to be digitally detoxed -- our minds cleansed of the Internet. But as cellphone services spread across the world, it's become increasingly tough to find places that are off the digital grid.

Not that people are not trying. The 24/7 lifestyle has gotten so intense, "unplugged vacations" are gaining real appeal and popularity. This is why after a decade spent selling us on the benefits of in-room WiFi, iPod charging stations, complimentary iPads and more, some resorts are promoting their lack of technology and connectivity with "digital detox packages." Instead of technology, you may find complimentary snorkel gear, windsurfing rigs, kayaks, yoga classes, and board games as ways to relax.

Of course, going off the grid may take some getting use to it. At first, you may feel that you're missing out on something by not having email. You just have to remember that after a week, many of those emails will no longer be considered as important or urgent. Also while your brain might initially beg for stimuli, you can expose it to alternatives: sunsets, beaches, flowers or mountain hikes.

Here are some strategies for unplugging:

Keep a media log, which can be a simple chart to jot down what you use and when and for how long you use it. This will give you an idea of what you are up against.

Set up automatic responses to let folks know you are out of the office and when they can expect to hear back from you as well as who they can contact while you are gone.

Organize your email so only the most important messages get to your main inbox.

Turn off your ringer on your smart phone so it doesn't keep interrupting you.

Delete apps on your devices that you are really addicted to. You can always restore an app once you get back from vacation.

If you're really brave, leave your phone charger at home and depart with a full battery -- you'll able to check your phone when necessary, but otherwise have to use it conservatively to save battery.

Keep your phone on airplane mode after your flight lands.

Buy a disposable camera (yes, the $10 drugstore kind) to capture memories from your trip -- without spending time fiddling with your phone to find the perfect filters and hash tags.

Make your itinerary before you go, and bring maps and guidebooks with you to avoid spending a good chunk of your vacation staring at your Google Maps app.

When you return to your digital life with a new appreciation for how wonderful unplugging can be, set aside technology-free slots in your schedule and time to yourself when you can unplug.

If you want to get your family involved in the digital detoxing, have each family member draw up a list of hobbies or activities they really like to do or want to do (e.g., baking, reading a book, drawing, bike riding). Then, when one person is tempted to kill time by playing online games or sending text messages, you will have a whole list of alternatives to engage in.

Take a mini-break -- a day without social networking or a cellphone free weekend.

Adopt a rule that all electronic devices be put away at a specific time and in another room before you head off to bed.

So, as you plan your upcoming vacation, think about going off the grid. You'll be glad you did, and so will your family and all your colleagues when you come back more refreshed than normal.

• Russell is the vice dean and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management.

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