by Bob Walters | June 01, 2007

I need help when it comes to disconnecting from the wired world and just enjoying a vacation or a couple of days off. I thought I was unique, but I’m not alone: There are others out there for whom unplugging is outright painful.

How do you know you have a problem? If you tend to text-message in theaters until the split second the curtain goes up, if you try to talk on your cell phone during a root canal, if you consider a non-Wi-Fi zone the equivalent of North Korea or if you’ve ever been shushed at a funeral, you probably would do well to rethink your dependence on electronic devices.

So, how to turn off so you can finally unwind and enjoy some real down time or, heaven forbid, an extended vacation?

Action plan

Follow these steps to clear the decks before leaving.

* Make a list of the critical projects you are involved in. Determine an alternate contact for each, and brief those individuals on how to handle things while you are gone. Make sure they have adequate information to answer any questions, and make sure the key people involved know whom to contact in your absence (other than you).

* Designate one person people should call if they must get in touch with you. That person should have the discretion of notifying you in case of an emergency and is the only person with whom you will communicate while you’re gone.

* Give advance notice of your impending vacation via your voice mail, e-mail and all other communication devices. To really stay ahead of the game, post the message a full week before you leave. For example, your outgoing message might indicate: “I will be out of the office and unreachable by e-mail or cell phone from Monday, Jan. 5, through Monday, Jan. 12. If you have something important to discuss, please contact me before then.”

* Call or e-mail key contacts to let them know you will be unavailable, and give them a point of contact in your absence.

* Just before leaving, set up your vacation e-mail and voice mail to clearly state that you are out of the office and will not be answering your e-mail or cell phone. Note when you will be back in the office and provide a phone number and e-mail address of the designated contact person if someone must reach you before your return.

Road rules

How to keep the addiction at bay once you’re on vacation?

* Don’t take work with you; it just might trigger a desire to call the office.

* Adjust in increments. Take the first 48 hours of your vacation to be totally out of touch. Use this time as an adjustment period. On the third day, if you feel the need to pick up the phone or start sending/checking e-mail, ask yourself this: Is this call or message really necessary, or can I go another 24 hours? The answer most likely is no, it’s not that important.

* If you must call, check in with your point of contact only. If someone urgently needed you, your contact will know and either will have handled the issue or will have an update for you.

* If there is an issue, determine if it’s something that has to be addressed ASAP. What are the consequences if you wait until you return? Can you have your point of contact delegate someone else to handle this?

* Can’t hack it? Those who really need a break but don’t trust themselves to follow the tips listed above should consider one of the growing number of spas and hotels that offer a lock-up service: They’ll take your Blackberry or cell phone and keep it safe from your reach for the duration of your stay.

The bottom line: It’s really not that hard to disconnect. You just need to plan for it.

Bob Walters,based in Fort Worth, Texas, is founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak Software.