If you're on vacation, bookmark this page, stop reading and unplug whatever you're reading this with. Now. When you're back at the office, come back, and read all about why your disconnected vacation provides more of a productivity boost than any smartphone or laptop ever has.
First, Kill the E-Mail
To make the most of your time away from the office, you have to get away from the office. Anything that links you to your office or business needs to be disconnected. Go ahead and use your phone for directions to your hotel, or to review the menu of the restaurant across the park. Don't use it to read your e-mail.
In fact, according to researchers at the University of California and the US Army, e-mail vacations can actually boost productivity, even while still at work. How? Workers prevented from accessing e-mail experienced less stress, were able to focus on tasks longer, multitasked less, and wasted less time on computer screen distractions. Despite feeling isolated from their peers, they were able gather necessary information from colleagues either face-to-face or over the phone. Those social interactions lead to less stress as well.
But what does a study about how e-mail distracts us from doing work have to do with a disconnected vacation? Avoiding the corporate inbox isn't going to make us more productive while we lounge at pools. So what's the harm of checking e-mail when there isn't anything better to do?
Just thinking about checking your e-mail engages your brain and puts you back at work.
New York Times reporter Matt Richtel and several neuroscientists tested that idea last year when they took a rafting trip without any devices. Throughout the voyage, no one was able to communicate with their workplaces. While this was not a scientific experiment with any replicable data, the adventurers reported productive discussions about brain research and new ideas. They felt energized and ready to conduct experiments that tested their theories on the benefits of an offline brain.
If you're not ready to conduct such an experiment on vacation, consider a couple of experiments that examine why your brain needs downtime. The first, from UC-San Francisco, says while we are not engaged, our brains are processing new experiences and learning and putting them into long-term memory. The second from the University of Michigan finds that being in nature is more refreshing and helps the brain better process experiences. The key is reducing stimuli. That means no e-mail, social media updates, Angry Birds or Netflix. If you want to recharge, leave your smartphone uncharged.
Do It for the Kids
If you put away the devices and head out into the great outdoors, there's a good chance you're going to improve your children's health and happiness, too. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, explains that "nature-deficit disorder" affects children's behavior and health. Louv suggests playing outside without devices is a key to reversing many public health challenges. Maybe it's not too late to book a family trip to the Grand Canyon.