Stress — on the job and off — has been called a health epidemic by the World Health Organization. It makes us more prone to a host of maladies, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and cancer. And it's estimated to kill more than 120,000 American workers each year.
It's not just work, of course. It's how we work. Our smartphones tether us to our 9-to-5 jobs 24/7. We're online, all the time. Day and night. Weekday and weekend. Technology, supposed to make our lives easier, has made it a lot more complicated.
For entrepreneurs, this can be acute. I've experienced this firsthand, as head of a half-dozenonline optical companies with offices around the world. Being always on is a job requirement.
We've all read about the importance of taking downtime, but if we look back in history, "a day of rest" isn't a new, innovative business hack. It's an ancient tradition represented across societies and cultures. And among many peoples and religions, it's not a choice. It's sacred space carved out for reflection and connection.
I believe in this so strongly that, taking a cue from my family's heritage, from sundown on Friday to sunset on Saturday, I completely go offline. No emails, no calls, no Tweets, no tech, no matter what. For anyone who's struggling with finding time for self and family, I'd like to share what I've learned. For health, sanity, and happiness, I think it can make all the difference.
Make it sacred and don't apologize
It's not enough to carve out time in your schedule. You need to approach this blackout period with an unwavering belief in its benefit and a commitment to see it through. For me, this means abstaining from work and, in the deepest sense, simply resting. It grounds me and allows me to re-energize and focus on what's really important in my life.
The key is to be unapologetic rather than aspirational about unplugging. As soon my family and I get home from our workweek, there's nothing, with the exception of a life and death situation, that would cause me to compromise that time. As far as business and my income is concerned, it can wait.
This sounds hard, but it's not impossible. Many prominent business leaders have woven regular downtime into their ultra-busy work schedules. Billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett , for instance, spend large chunks of time just thinking and reflecting.
For entrepreneurs, I think it's key to bring a similar kind of sanctity to your personal downtime. It's far too easy to let work suck you back in when you're supposed to be with friends and family. Don't let it happen. Set aside a sacred time and space.
With disconnection comes reconnection
Another key is to turn your phone off. In fact, the more devices you can shut off, the better. I take this to an extreme and make a conscious effort to turn off everything — computers, TVs, tablets, and anything else that might distract me from myself, my family, and being present.
In our uber-connected world, I'd argue that this act of deliberate technological disconnect is more important than ever. Americans aged 18 and older now spend 11 hours per day in totalusing electronic media like TV, smartphones, and computers. Being "always on" like that isn't healthy for anyone. For CEOs, the corresponding stress can ultimately be counterproductive , possibly leading to poor decision-making and impaired growth.
An absence of technology, by contrast, often leaves more time for the important stuff. In my case, friends often come over. Dinner becomes a five-hour affair as we eat and chat into the wee hours. I think the important thing here is that just disconnecting with technology is only part of the solution. It's equally critical to reconnect with people face to face, unhurried, and uninterrupted.
Cultivate your contemplative self
Without the disruptions of electronic screens or any appointments, I have a chance to read, talk (really talk) with friends and, above all, think. I take a break from always reacting, plotting, and striving to get ahead. All of this is key to being human and being alive — and to cultivating an inner self.
In his bestseller " The Road to Character ," New York Times columnist David Brooks outlines our "two selves": Adam I, or the person we are at work, and Adam II, the person we are around our family and friends. Brooks explains that there needs to be a rebalancing in favor of our true selves, or, as he puts it, focusing energy on our eulogy virtues, not just our resume virtues.
Our professional self is the one we invest so much time, energy, and frustration in building throughout the week. Wrapped up in this concept is the ideal of the workaholic who sacrifices his own time and labor to try to get ahead. We all know this person: he or she gets grouped in with entrepreneur glory words like "hustle," "grit," and "drive."
But a person isn't complete without their inner, contemplative self. This individual all too often gets ignored or overlooked in our always-on, demanding work lives. And it's only with regular downtime that we're able to give attention to this critical component — indeed, the critical component — of who we are.
My unwavering commitment to downtime is a sacred occasion for me, and I understand it may not seem possible for everybody. But I do think there's at least a lesson here for everyone who is overworked and struggling to disconnect. Setting aside time to disconnect from technology and reconnect with people can reap extraordinary benefits — not the least of which is renewed focus on your business. In fact, you'll know you've got the concept of downtime right when you literally can't wait to get back to work.