This summer, inspired by Walpole CEO Helen Brocklebank, I attempted a digital detox.  No emails or social media for a full 10 days. So far, so simple.  Horrified by research that suggested we check our phones 200 times a day – that’s every 6½ minutes, just in case you were wondering – this was the moment I was going to properly switch off.

As we headed to the ferry terminal, the laptop was left at home, roaming was switched off and the iPad was packed only for emergency Peppa Pig during the journey ahead. Had we stayed in WiFi free places, if indeed there are such things any more, I honestly wouldn’t have seen an email for the entire holiday.

I won’t say it was easy, but I did do it.  The early anxiety of missing a “crucial” email soon ebbed away as I took in the sights and sounds of the vineyards.  Moreover, the difference it made really blew me away.  The knot in my stomach that I should be responding to a “crisis” wasn’t there anymore.  I became more aware of my surroundings – the sights, smells and sounds of the sea, pine forests and bustling markets around me.  My full focus was on my family. I watched my son fish in rockpools, made pirate camps out of driftwood, watched waves crash against the sand and breathed in salty clean air.

In contrast, the friend with whom we stayed seemed surgically attached to her phone, admitting to daily emails and several conference calls in the days leading up to our arrival.  As a high-powered lawyer she believed nobody else was qualified to cover for her.  The consequences of which were, instead of enjoying her much needed fortnight off from full-time work with her husband and baby, she was anything but relaxed, which subsequently had negative effects on the family and friends around her. We all like to feel needed, yet when the office becomes more important than friends or family, it’s a sad indictment that technology does not always make life easier – it takes it over.

I realised as I sat on that beach watching my two-year old wildly wield a cricket bat, that I had been telling myself three little white lies for the past 20 odd years.  Perhaps it helped me justify putting work before everything else or, maybe, I subconsciously wanted to feel needed.  I don’t think I’m alone, but one thing I have learnt is that nobody lies on their death bed wishing they’d spent more time in the office. I will be digitally detoxing at regular intervals in the future and I reckon I’ll be a better boss, wife and mother as a result.

Three lies I’ve told myself for far too long:

  1. “It takes several days to wind down on holiday before I can properly relax”

This was true when I was a slave to my emails, then as they slowed down a few days into my holiday, I started to relax. When I removed the pressure to check them and respond immediately, I relaxed a whole lot quicker and my holiday felt longer as a result. 

  1. “Some clients will only speak to me”

They probably will, if you allow them. Boundaries are powerful things. Don’t believe for a minute that only you can do the job. It is amazing how colleagues step up a gear when they need to.

  1. “If I check emails once a day I’ll keep on top of things”

If you spend one hour a day checking emails, you’re effectively sacrificing a whole day a week of hard-earned holiday.  There’s no time off in lieu for that…


Written by: Charlotte Heath-Bullock, Managing Partner, Cultural Communications