Karen Jackson discusses the curse of connectivity and how to switch off when on holiday.
24/7/365 connectivity is a curse. A multiplicity of handsets gives you easy access to vital information but they do ensure we are never left in peace for one moment. I am religious about turning off emails on my smart phone after 6pm. This has arisen from my learning that if they are there I simply cannot resist looking at them, reacting to them and then 'dealing' with them in my sleep - drafting letters at 3am in my head. If they are not there I simply cannot look.
For holidays it's more of the same. I have a 'no email, no phone' policy. I disconnect completely. I give my husband's mobile number as an emergency contact to a select few who know better than to use it unless they really, really need to and only then may they text. When I am on leave I am on leave and I want to forget about it all. There are a number of ways I make sure I disconnect myself and once these methods are in place I know I can relax. If you have never tried a total disconnect holiday, when you can forget you are a solicitor and leave it all behind for a week or two, I thoroughly recommend it. If you can't do it, at least put in place a phone ban and access emails once a day at an appointed time only. Otherwise you spend your holiday rubber-necking your devices and that is not a holiday.
Strategies for a work-free holiday and total disconnect
Be up front. Tell your clients a couple of weeks in advance that you're going away so that if there is something they want you to do before you go, you have time to do it. There is nothing worse for a client than them not knowing you are away. It upsets them if the first they know about it is when they email you and get an out of office. Give them advance warning - a round-robin blind copy email to all clients with open files is all you need. There seems to be less of a panic if they know you are not going to there.
Be honest. Consider your ability to finish off work for your clients before you go. If it is a big ask and not time-sensitive, have the courage to tell them that you cannot do it because you have conflicting deadlines and some of them are real. Tell them it will be the first thing on your list when you get back. If you have to, tell them how much you really need a break. If you have a good relationship with the client you will even get an email back, wishing you a nice holiday!
Contact details. Always leave details for a person who can do work for clients while you are gone. The fear of not knowing who to call in case of emergency gets people agitated. Stem it off at the pass by giving them what they need without asking. They will be thrilled at your organisational skills and forethought. This will give them confidence about you being away too, so it's a win-win.
Brief your team. Make sure anyone working on your files is fully briefed. Sure your colleagues can look through the file but what better way to encourage a fellow worker to babysit your files next time than by giving them a nice short brief on where you are with a matter, what might happen, and how the client might need assistance. A bit of colour on the personality and style of the client also goes a long way. Every client and their needs is unique. It takes only one sentence to brief a colleague on this. It takes very little time to do this sort of briefing and it encourages cooperation from co-workers. It also means you can ask the same of them when you reciprocate the favour.
Eat the frog. Make sure you allow enough time to finish urgent or important tasks. You will never be able to switch off if you have a difficult or tedious matter to resolve and it is still waiting for you when you return (the term 'eat the frog' comes from Brian Tracy's book and blog about avoiding procrastination). It might be a horrible and painful task that you have avoided for weeks but just do it! I promise you will feel better instantly.
Out of Office message. This is crucial if you want to be left in peace and keep the clients and courts happy. It doesn't have to be War and Peace but the name of who to contact, with email and phone details, does the trick. Simple enough but you would be surprised how many people ignore this most basic form of assistance. Tech is good when it helps us to go on leave.
You need a break
The European Court of Justice has consistently given judgments which reflect the sanctity of annual leave and the need for workers to rest. If you do not take time off and break away completely how will you ever be refreshed? The French legislating for no emails after 6pm is a genius move. It should be unlawful for employers to contact workers during out of office hours and holiday unless absolutely necessary. We all need a break some time. There needs to be more legislation around this because the incidence of stress, anxiety, depression, ADHD and other mental health disorders is on the rise and this is likely to be connected to overwork and too much tech. Back in the day even TV was only on restricted hours (showing my age!).
I read a lot around productivity, connectivity, the Third Metric. I have had to impose sanctions on my own conduct around rest. When you are passionate about your work it is hard to let go and switch off. But when you do, you return with fresh ideas and new enthusiasm. Reading Arianna Huffington's Thrive was really enlightening for me. She endorses a lot of the switch-off techniques I use. I did not realise that it took her collapsing at her desk and injuring her head to make her understand why it is not sensible to work non-stop. Our internal circuits are constantly overloaded. The brain needs time to recover and overnight between working days is not enough. And we all know weekends are never long enough. It's time to take care of ourselves.
My advice? Next time you go on leave, leave it all behind. Prepare properly so that you won't worry, get the clients on board early and make it known to those who need to know that you cannot be contacted unless it is absolutely vital. By setting these boundaries you will find an enormous amount of space and rest, even on a short break. Go on, I dare you.
Read Karen's blog about stress and the legal profession
Read the Law Society's report on health and wellbeing
Find out about our wellbeing taskforce in collaboration with LawCare
Read the BBC news article about digital detox