Switching off in a digital world


Chantal Hosftee is a clinical psychologist and executive coach. She presents mindfulness talks, workshops and training for businesses.

In this digital world, is it possible to own a business and have a proper holiday? In theory, having unlimited access to our work emails and texts should give us flexibility and better work-life balance. Then why do we struggle to switch off?

Read on for tips on taking a decent holiday while running your own business.


Stop checking your phone: why it's so hard


You think you have to


Because of technology, our ‘desk’ goes wherever we go. It’s now possible for people to respond right away. So by not responding, we feel like we're letting our customers down.

It's rewarding


Your phone is just as addictive as a slot machine. Every action is linked to a variable reward. When you check your phone, you're pulling the lever on the slot machine:

  • Every time you check for missed calls or texts
  • Every time you refresh your inbox
  • Every time you check your social media feed

With slot machines. the reward is money. With your phone, it's information. When you get a reward, your brain releases dopamine, a feel-good chemical. This chemical makes you want to keep "pulling the lever".

You're afraid to miss something important


There's FOMO, and then there's FOMSI: Fear of Missing Something Important. As a business-owner, every email seems important. What if it's a customer complaint or an employee resignation notice

Then again, what if it's not important? It doesn't matter. If your brain expects something important, then you'll have the urge to keep checking your messages.

Stop checking your phone: how to switch off

So now that you know the problem, you can create a strategy for switching off when you're on holiday.

Set expectations with your staff


If switching off isn't an option, then try to reduce your level of responsiveness. Before you leave for your trip, communicate to your team how available you are whilst you're away. Tell them how often you will respond. Set an out-of-office message and ask not to be copied on "FYI" emails.

To further filter important stuff only, appoint someone to handle your communications. Tell them to notify you only if they can't handle it themselves. This plan will help take care of FOMSI.

Create a barrier

One way to keep yourself from checking work emails and updates is to create a barrier between yourself and your work emails. Our phones are also alarm clocks and calendar, so here are some tips for creating a barrier:

  • During your break, turn off inbox notifications from your email app
  • Plan 30 to 60 minutes at a set time every day to check work emails
  • Don’t respond unless you have to
  • Give your mobile number to your appointed person for use in emergencies

Remember why you’re on holiday

Most business owners operate under high levels of stress, so holidays are important for their health and wellbeing. Holidays are a time to recharge and spend quality time with loved ones. When work interrupts a holiday, you haven’t really taken a break. All you’ve done is swapped your office for a hotel room or lounge seat by the pool. Your mind is still at work.

Make a conscious decision to switch off from work while on holiday. Decide to recharge and reconnect during your trip. This allows you to return to work with renewed energy. You may find that you will be more motivated to work if you take a “real” holiday.