If we are personally acquainted, then you may already know that I just returned from the adventure of a lifetime—a 28 mile, 4-day trek along the Inca Trail. Initially, when we signed up for the trip, I knew I had to do a bit of training since we were going to be ascending to 13,800 feet above sea level. And, I spent about a year on a modified exercise regime to prepare me for the physical portion.
Despite my anxiety over the physical portion, the thing I was even more worried about was the complete 100% unplug from real estate life.
For over a decade, I’ve been travelling to some fairly unique places on my vacation, but I’ve always had Internet and mobile phone access, and I have always been able to stay connected; I’ve done some nutty things, such as working on commission spreadsheets while on a bus in Cambodia.
But, this time, we were taking a trip where I would be 4-5 days without any Internet or cell phone service. There is no electricity, no running water—nothing for miles and miles. I was extremely worried. Would clients understand or be upset? Would the office be able to survive without me? Exactly how many thousands of emails would be waiting to greet me when I got back online and how would I ever manage to go through them?
But, the truth is: it was glorious. And, below I share 5 very powerful reasons to periodically disconnect from work (followed by instructions on how to prepare the rest of the world for your absence).
5 Powerful Reasons to Periodically Disconnect from Work
- Reduce stress. Maybe this seems obvious and maybe it does not, but disconnecting from the responsibilities of work relieved a lot of stress. Whether we realize it or not, in real estate, we feel that we always need to be available to appear dedicated to our clients. But this leads to high levels of emotional and psychological stress. Being available to our clients for upwards of 12 hours per day ends up draining all of our energy. Unsurprisingly, researchers have actually found that folks who are unable to disconnect have higher levels of fatigue and burnout at work.
- Improve sleep. Believe it or not, a 2013 study actually revealed that 44 percent of people sleep with their phones by their sides so that they don’t miss a message or notification. But being awakened by notifications is likely doing nothing for your sleep patterns, much less your mood upon waking up in the morning. And if you’re waking up in the middle of the night to check work emails, that doesn’t suggest anything good, either, because you aren’t giving your brain and body proper time to recharge. Also, research shows that blue light from the screens in computers and phones also makes it difficult for our bodies to fall asleep. Either way, it is probably a good idea to shut down all tech a few hours before bedtime. Despite the research, my sleep did not improve on the trek. I’m a 5-star hotel gal and I was sleeping in a tent, obsessing over the next time I might need to use the porta-potty, so I didn’t get a real good night’s sleep until I was able to sleep in a bed again.
- Find work-life balance. Regularly disconnecting from work decreases stress, improves relationships, increases the quality of your work, and maintains emotional health. It’s difficult, but entirely possible, to set aside time to live without those precious electronics. You might have a cutoff time at night, a specific day of the week, or just a couple of hours in the early morning. But ensuring that you have some time for yourself is key. For real estate agents, this can be tough. Create a personal policy to stop responding to work emails and text messages after certain hours or on the weekends. If doctors and lawyers are not available 24/7, why are you?
- Improve in person relationships. You’ve got to admit that there is quite possibly nothing more unpleasant than being in the midst of a face-to-face conversation, only to see the person you are talking to answer a text on his or her mobile phone. When you are not completely connected to your mobile device, you’ve actually got plenty of time to listen to and chat with those around you—thus having more meaningful conversations and being more attuned to those with whom you are spending your time. On the trek, there was actually one point where we were told that we might have limited cell service, but I opted to keep my phone off because I knew that the stress of seeing news from the office and perhaps not being able to address it, would cause me some anguish that might negatively impact my experience of being fully present on the trip.
- Increase productivity upon return. This one might seem counter intuitive. People are staying online longer precisely to show how committed they are to their work. But image isn’t reality. It turns out that constant multitasking decreases the quality of work. And when your brain is always “at work,” it eventually takes its toll. Some of my most creative and largest money-making ideas have actually come to me when I’ve been on vacation. Disconnecting helps to provide distance and space, and helps you to identify and address what really matters and gives you objectivity to identify those things that you don’t need in your life—a troublesome client, for example.
Admittedly, it is a lot easier to disconnect for several days or a week if you have a good plan. Here are the steps that I took in order to make my trip and my re-entry as smooth as possible.
How to Prepare to Unplug from Your Real Estate Life
- Unsubscribe (in your email) from everything you don’t need. It’s a little bit embarrassing, but I prefer to shop online—anything from dry shampoo to a backpack. As a result, prior to the trip, I was getting probably about 50-100 emails daily from companies that were just trying to sell me stuff. I would just delete all the emails every morning, but prior to the trip I decided to manually unsubscribe, which ultimately reduced the number of fresh emails in my inbox significantly.
- Organize folders and/or labels. Depending upon your Internet provider, you may be able to set up either folders or labels (gmail). Since I use Google Apps for email, I set up a few labels—one for things that needed to be done when I got back and another of items I may want to look at, but did not require a response.
- Have someone you trust check your email. I then solicited one of the awesome women that works in my office to check my email a few times each day. Since she was already very involved in our everyday office activities, she was able to respond to many of the emails that came in. She deleted all the sales emails, filed all the ones that needed a response from me or that I would need to review. Then, upon my return, I’m happy to report that I had only 3 emails to review or address.
- Call all clients with pending business. Three days prior to the trip, I personally called (no text and no email) each client with whom I was working on a daily business. For me, these were my agents (as I’m the Broker) and also owners with properties using our property management division where I’d been recently helping out. I explained where I was going, the status of our business, and who would be taking over for me in my absense. The good news is that this worked well, and no one seemed to have any issues that went unresolved while I was gone.
It’s true that having a good team will help you to disconnect or unplug from work more easily. But, after participating in this trek and disconnecting from the Internet 100% for about 5 days, I’d have to say that the prep (both physical and mental) definitely paid off. Not only was the trek successful, but my life “unplugged” went off without a hitch!