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7 tips for unplugging from tech during your vacation

David Pogue
Tech Critic

Americans—sheesh. Fifty-two percent of Americans report having unused vacation days at the end of the year, according to a recent survey of more than 4,000 U.S. workers.

That’s a total of 705 million days of wasted vacation.

And then when we are on vacation, we check the phone. We fear missing out. We dread coming home to 10,000 unread emails. We keep working.

That’s a problem, because vacation exists for a reason. It’s our time to relax, refresh, recover from burnout. It benefits both us and our employers, because we often return with new ideas and new energy. (I like Anne Lamott’s line: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”)

Obviously, you can turn on Do Not Disturb on your phone, so that only the most important calls and texts come through. Or you can open your Notifications settings and manually turn off notifications for your social-media apps, so you’re not tempted to keep peeking.

Trouble is, nobody does those things. If you’re going to get serious about addressing your work addiction on vacation, you’ve got to be a little bit cleverer.

It’s not easy to unplug when you’re on vacation. (Photo:  Yacine Petitprez.)

Set expectations

Before you go, tell your family or companion what amount of digital involvement you intend to have. “I’m gonna check sports scores at dinner, and headlines in the morning, but that’s it,” you might say.

That way, you feel guilty if you check your phone during the day, and they have permission to nag you if you do.

Use the nuclear email option

Daimler, the German car company, allows employees to set up auto-delete rules for email when they’re on vacation. If you write to them, the auto-response email says:

“I’m on vacation until July 30, so I’ll never see your email. If it’s important, contact my colleague Casey Smith; otherwise, feel free to send your email again after July 30.”

You return from vacation with no waiting email!

And guess what? Everybody understands, and life goes on.

There’s no reason you can’t do exactly the same thing. Either set up a mail rule to delete all the mail that comes in while you’re away, or delete them manually when you return.

Delete the apps

Social-media apps like Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR), and Instagram are tough cases. We get a tiny dopamine rush every time we check, so it’s awfully hard to keep away from them.

If you find yourself tempted, delete the apps from your phone. Yes, delete them.

When you return from vacation, you can reinstall them, and no data will have been lost. But in the meantime, you’ll have a nicely inconvenient obstacle to casual social media checks.

Consider cellular only

Here’s another self fakeout: If you can’t go full Do Not Disturb, consider turning off your phone’s cellular circuitry, so that it’s Wi-Fi only.

That prevents you from checking your phone when you’re out of the hotel. You can really be present, really explore your surroundings.

And if you’re overseas, you could also save a ton of roaming charges.

Carry a camera

We use our phones as our cameras, of course, and that’s super convenient. But it’s also an excuse to look at our phones, to pull them out, to wake them.

If you have an actual camera, maybe a compact point-and-shoot, you’ll have no reason to pull your phone out. Maybe you can even leave it in the hotel.

Fight apps with apps

Apps can help. For Android, for example, Offtime is like Do Not Disturb on steroids. It blocks all app messages, calls, texts, and emails—except the really important ones you say are allowed to get through. It’s all waiting for you when you re-connect.

For the iPhone, Onward blocks the apps and websites you set up in advance. It tracks how much time you spend in each app and sends you a report. It can also limit how much time you spend in each app, and it has a Focus Now button that turns on the blocking. You give the override password to someone else so you can’t cheat.

Offtime (left) and Onward (right) can limit the time you spend in your communication apps.

The vacation account

If fear of missing out is keeping you from ignoring your email, take this radical approach: Create a vacation email account, using a free service like Gmail (GOOG, GOOGL) or Yahoo Mail (VZ). Give that address to your boss, spouse, children, colleague, or assistant. If there’s anything important, they can reach you there. Let your regular email accounts go un-looked-at.

Digital health

Digital health is one of this year’s buzzwords. Both Apple (AAPL) and Google are adding tools to their phone’s software updates this year to help you get a handle on your phone addiction (in Android P and iOS 12).

This new app will track how much time you spend in each app, lets you set up daily time limits for each app, and shows how many times a day you wake your phone.

In the meantime, use these human hacks to keep your mind off of work—and on your vacation. And for heaven’s sake, take all the days you’re entitled to.

David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, welcomes comments below. On the Web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s poguester@yahoo.com. You can sign up to get his stuff by email, here.

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