E-tools keep us traveling moms connected when we’re on the road, in our offices, or at home. In fact, there are not many places we can go anymore where we can’t be reached. We’re on our smart phones talking, sending photos, posting real-time updates, and sharing our adventures—with everyone but the people we’re supposed to be sharing them with, our loved ones.

But how much connecting is too much?  And when should we turn off the iPhone, power down the computer and log off from Facebook to maintain a bit of sanity and keep stress at bay?

Benefits of Disconnecting

On a recent TravelingMom BlogTalkRadio program, I shared how I managed for the first time to cut myself off from all of my e-tools during our summer vacation at the shore. The benefits I experienced made it well worth it. By disconnecting I was able to focus more on my family, listen attentively to the conversations going on around me, and pay particular attention to my inner voice, the one that usually does a pretty good job helping me think about life, sort through priorities, and put together action plans for reaching my goals. I also realized that a lot of information that I thought I couldn’t live without I really could. And I was quite relaxed, I may add.

I would love to tell you I returned from vacation a new woman, independent of my need for e-tools. However, that wasn’t the case. Old habits came back with a vengeance and I found myself back behind the laptop screen and compulsively clicking the keyboard.

How to Tame the E-Beast

What I realized was that whether traveling on business or vacation, or staying put in an office or home, our virtual connections can literally take over our lives. But we really have more control over them than we allow ourselves to believe. The secret to taming the e-beast ends up being our ability to develop good habits and protocols around how we use the tools. By doing so we better manage our virtual connectivity, enhance our productivity, and get less stressed out about it. However, it’s not necessarily managing e-connections differently when we’re away that helps but developing an ongoing process and individual protocols for how best to stay connected.

Here are some of the tips I have learned:

  • Smart phones. Checking the Blackberry or iPhone can be like snacking compulsively; you do it because it’s there. It becomes a bad habit.Decide how often you need to check your Blackberry and stick to that rhythm. Tuck it away in the zipper portion of your purse so you’re not tempted to look at it every minute. Erase messages as soon as you reply. Try not to multitask. For example, don’t pull your carry-on bag out of the overhead compartment while reading your messages. Wait until you disembark. When you’re on vacation, leave the Blackberry in the hotel room if you go down to the pool. You’ll have to return to the room to check messages.

  • Email. The out-of-office feature is one of the best email management tools. Use it. Be specific in your auto reply about whether you are traveling on business or vacation; it helps clarify expectations about when you might return the message. Turn on your auto reply before you leave. Then resist the temptation to respond to emails while you’re gone. That can be confusing to those who think you’re still on vacation.

  • Cell Phones. As with email, make your message specific. If you are on vacation make the caller aware that you will only respond to urgent calls, otherwise they should expect a call upon your return. Ask them to leave their name, time of call, and a phone number you can reach them at. Don’t promise you’ll return the call “right away.” That may sound like a great customer service tactic, but if you can’t deliver it will hurt your credibility more than help it. For business meetings, ask participants to leave cell phones in their rooms and check during breaks. This is a bold move, but I’ve seen it work.

  • Social Media. Believe it or not, your Facebook friends will survive without you while you’re away. Post pictures from the trip after you’ve returned. Or if you want to share some photos from the road, send them from key spots. Don’t try to chronicle every minute of your trip while it’s happening.

  • Blogs. Let readers know you won’t be posting for a period of time. I’m leery of sharing specifics but you can simply write, “Taking a break. Watch for my next post on (date.)” You can also pre-write that first post and program it to automatically appear.

  • Manage What Comes In. Take inventory of your inbox. When I returned from that unplugged vacation, I had 200 emails in my inbox. I deleted a stunning number without ever reading them. Pay attention to what lists you’re on and what you’re receiving. Unsubscribe to e-newsletters, Google alerts, or any other information that’s not useful or doesn’t add value. 

As a last resort, there is always the wonderful advice shared by Tom Boyle, a vice president of development:

“Pack all ‘non-essential" e-tools in the same suitcase as a designated ‘lost luggage" [airline cooperation is guaranteed]. If you do not have faith in the airlines, you could accidentally leave it inside the door at home as you leave….”