I started my first full-time job back around the turn of the century. (Putting it that way makes me sound even older and wiser than I am!) I worked in a corporate setting and had my own cubicle, complete with a multiple-line phone and a desktop computer that was almost as big as my dorm fridge.

Around this time of year, the HR Department would start sending all-staff reminders about the upcoming holiday season. We were expected to change our outgoing voicemail messages and out-of-office email responses to reflect our time away. My level of responsibility and the technology of the day made these messages very important. I didn’t have a team covering for me or a simple way to check my inbox. While it was possible to call in to check voicemail messages, the likelihood that I would do that was slim to none.

When I was out-of-office, I was out-of-office. And that was true for most people.

Always Out-of-Office and Never Out-of-Office

Obviously, things have changed. Perhaps it’s the nature of my business or the cultural shift to nearly-constant availability, but I don’t see (or hear) those out-of-office messages used as often today. Many of us have our work phone and email readily available in our pocket.

For me, that isn’t a bad thing. The mobility of my profession means I can always be out of the office and technology makes working on the go a possibility. My “weekends” aren’t relegated to “weekends” in a traditional sense and my work days look very different thanks to my phone. I’m grateful for that.

There is a downside though. The flip side of that equation is one many of us are familiar with – that also means, I’m never really out of the office. Because of my phone, I like you, am almost always available.

Volumes have been written about work-life balance and work-life tempo and the importance of unplugging. These are things we’ve all had to consider as technology continues to make us more and more accessible. But for most of us, our phones, tablets, and laptops blur the lines between work and play.

Most of us no longer have the option to walk away from the office. The office follows us. Simple holiday email responses or voicemails (though still important – please use these, folks) aren’t enough anymore. We use the same tools to connect professionally that we use to connect personally. Unplugging, though necessary from time to time, isn’t always practical.

We use our devices to communicate, navigate, and play. If we are separated geographically from family or friends, trying to “unplug” during off hours doesn’t make sense. Instead, our use and manipulation of technology have to adapt.

Be Intentional and Be Present

So, I have a challenge for you. This holiday season, be intentional about how you use your tech. Switch the power dynamic. Turn off your push notifications – all of them.

When you’re out of the office, take the reigns. You decide when you check email, social media, and voicemail instead of letting your phone tell you when to do it. Decide ahead of time on a reasonable schedule — maybe once every few hours, or once every hour, or *gasp* once every day — and take your power back!

I’ve fallen madly in love with the “do not disturb” functionality on my phone. No longer will my phone be “the boss of me.” When I click “do not disturb,” I am the boss of my phone. I decide who and what can demand my attention. I decide when I will check in and how long I will mindlessly scroll.

Whether you’re spending time with family and friends this holiday season or traveling to get far away from them, enjoy where you are and who you’re with. Put the phone/tablet/laptop down and be present.

Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash
Many of us don't have the option to walk away from the office. The office follows us wherever we go. How can technology help us to be present on holiday?