Only read this if you have booked your family holiday and want a total break from work.

Off switch

Many business leaders I coach talk with pride about being available 24/7 on family holidays. They belong to my generation, and the work harder, longer, faster mantra has been so deeply absorbed it’s become the norm among many of us. It’s seen as the way things are and always will be.

Once I’ve finished working with them, though, they often change this belief. But not in the usual way. I try to avoid the well-trodden ground of hints, tricks and tips about the benefits of time away from technology.

Instead, I work with people to arrive at another way of thinking about reducing ‘busyness’. Where do you want to be mentally when on holiday? Being in two places at once is not yet an option. So you’re either playing with your children with genuine attention or you’re on your smartphone.

To take this further, what do you want your children to tell their friends about your involvement during the holiday? How about this? “I wish I were one of Mum’s clients. She talked to them more than me.” No? Thought not.

Here’s an approach to reducing the impact of technology. Do you want:

  • an interruption break? (being contactable 24/7 by your organisation)
  • a partial break? (being contactable between set times)
  • or a total break? (not being contactable unless there’s a ‘red light’ emergency on terms you’ve pre-defined with your team)

(You might also like to ask yourself which type of break your organisation might want you to have. The answer to this one will be quite revealing too!)

By choosing the kind of break you have you’re at least making a conscious decision, creating new norms and most importantly giving yourself a total break if that’s what you decide.

Still not convinced? Here’s one of the many ‘postcards from the future’ regrets I hear when coaching leaders who did not act this way. A City lawyer said, “I was so engrossed in my work that I was constantly working during family holidays. Sadly, much of this work was non-urgent and non-important because I can’t really remember exactly what I was doing apart from being crazy busy…”


Here are three steps to take towards a happier holiday:
  • Step 1

    Decide which of the three types of holidays you want. Buy a postcard on the first day of your holiday and write down your choice and why. Send it to your home address and read it when you return

  • Step 2

    Define those issues that are ‘red’ emergencies. Agree them with those who need to know – for instance your direct reports and your boss – and then let your team get on with it

  • Step 3

    Buy a ‘dumb phone’ for calls only on which you can be reached. In your out-of-office auto-reply, say you’ll be deleting all emails on your return, but in case of emergencies please call X or Y who can contact you if necessary

  • In short:

    Take decisions way before you board the plane and increase the chance of benefitting from the mental break. That way, you’ll have more great family memories to treasure.

    After all, what type of communications ought to dominate your holiday? Connecting virtually or connecting with those you love?