Special Report: What Should Today’s CIO Really be Managing?

Unfortunately, most people are afraid to unplug, even when they’re on vacation. They believe something might happen, so they have to be always connected to work. But this means they’re never really on vacation, and when they’re home, they’re not really home, they’re always working. But if your people are always working, how well are they functioning? The answer: not very well. They’re certainly not as creative and innovative as they need to be. And if you’re not unplugging on a regular basis, then you’re not as creative and innovative as you need to be either.

Unplugging leads to better results in all areas of life. Realize that your mind is always working on a subconscious level to solve your business problems and IT issues. No matter what you’re doing, your subconscious is at work. Have you ever noticed that your best business ideas tend to come when you’re working on or doing something else, whether walking the dog, woodworking, or playing with your kids? Great ideas generally do not occur when you’re in the midst of trying to come up with one. It’s when you’re in one of those other realities that many business issues get solved. However, if you never unplug, you develop something called “blur” where all your realities blend together and your mind never gets a chance to rest and recharge.

The good news is that you can be a responsible employee or executive and still have a life. But since there are no guidelines on how to do that, you can have to create them for yourself, for your team, and for your organization.

First, it’s time to stop thinking in terms of just productivity. While you may think that working all the time means you’re more productive, you have to ask yourself if that’s really the case. Maybe you’re not able to be as creative and innovative as you need to be. Maybe you’re not tapping into the fresh perspective that unplugging yields you.

Next, be disciplined and create strict guidelines for yourself. At a certain time in the evening, close the laptop and turn the phone off. Detail when you’re allowed to work and when you’re not. This may seem extreme at first, but even though we’re adults, we often act like children and need the same rules and guidelines that kids do.

If your kids have an X-Box, a Playstation, a computer with unlimited Internet access, and a Facebook and MySpace account, and if they can use these things whenever they want, they tend to act like the little monkey that keeps pushing the button that gives him food. That’s why parents set rules: “Do your homework before you play.” “Only one hour of TV after school.” “Turn off the computer at 9 p.m.” Because you want well-rounded kids, you encourage certain behaviors and activities. You send your kids to sports and dance lessons, help them learn a new language or how to play an instrument, and make sure they have enough time for rest. You know that your child will not be well-rounded if you let them decide what to do, as they’ll tend to focus on just a few things.

Adults are no different. That’s why you need to come up with your own guidelines in terms of when to plug in and when to unplug.

So is there a time to be thinking strategically, a time to be installing new systems, and a time to focus on innovation? Or are you going to get to those things “someday” because you’re constantly checking emails or troubleshooting some new technology installation?

Granted, you may not be able to change everyone else and get them to unplug, but you can start by changing yourself and then grow it outward. Can’t change the world? Then don’t. Can’t change your company? That’s okay. Start with yourself and then bring it to your team. They’ll bring it to their team, who will bring it to their customers, who will bring it to another group. It’s called leadership and very soon you and many others will start realizing the real benefit of taking control, unplugging from work, and harnessing the creativity and innovation you never knew you had.

Your future awaits

At the end of the day, being able to manage perceptions, change, and distractions is just as important as being able to manage people and projects. No matter who you are or what size company you work in, all the suggestions in this article are doable. Before long, you’ll become a master of managing perceptions, addicted to your hour per week, and more refreshed than ever as a result of unplugging. When that happens, you’ll open yourself up to a whole new world of possibilities. So don’t wait for your future to unfold randomly, only to end up in a place you don’t want to be. Instead, invest the time into yourself and watch your success grow.

Daniel Burrus is considered one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and business strategists, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients better understand how technological, social and business forces are converging to create enormous, untapped opportunities. He is the author of six books, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal best seller Flash Foresight: How To See the Invisible and Do the Impossible as well as the highly acclaimed Technotrends.