I recently left the country. On vacation. It wasn’t like an on-the-run type of situation.
And I did something that I’ve never been able to successfully do before—I didn’t check my email once. As a Muse editor, I’m all too familiar with all the science that says you need to truly disconnect to get the full benefits of your time away.
So, on this trip, I left determined not to check my inbox at all. And I did it! I returned to the office feeling relaxed and refreshed, and ready to convince you that it really is possible.
How do I plan to do this? By walking you through my very own inner monologue of all the excuses I’ve made in the past and why I was being ridiculous—ready? Here goes!
I’ll Be Swamped With Work When I Return
This might be true. However, unless you’re planning on making this a true workcation, then there’s very little you’ll be able to get done from your phone. So constantly looking at, or even responding to messages, won’t actually get you ahead—rather, it’ll just stress you out when you see what’s waiting for you.
Still, I’d Prefer to Know What’s Waiting for Me
Sure, I hear you on that. As someone who makes Saturday-morning checklists that involve the most minute details, I love to know what’s coming up. But instead of using your inbox as some kind of impromptu to-do list, consider spending 20 to 30 minutes before you leave creating an actual rundown of everything you already know you have coming up. While things will certainly be added while you’re out, odds are this’ll give you a pretty good idea of what those first few days back will look like.
What if Someone Needs Something From Me and I Hold Them Up by Not Responding, Resulting in My Co-worker Getting Fired?
This one has an easy fix. First, message your most reliable teammates (or boss or direct reports), and see if they can pitch in while you’re out. Next, make a list of anyone you regularly work with and shoot them an email letting them know the dates you’ll be unreachable; ask if there’s anything you can do in advance.
Then, a few days before you leave, you can send that same email as a reminder. But in this second one, you’re going to add a few lines: I won’t be checking my work email while I’m gone. You can reach out to Karen for any client requests, and Dave for any design needs. If it’s an emergency that requires my attention, please text me.
This does two things: gives you peace of mind that you won’t destroy someone’s career while you’re gone, and makes your colleagues think twice about whether something’s an emergency. There’s just something a little more intimate about texting a co-worker that makes you ask yourself, “Is this a real emergency, or is the kitchen being out of Diet Coke not a legit crisis?”
(Also, important note: This whole texting strategy depends on your phone plan if you’re traveling internationally.)
I Feel Guilty Asking People to Help Me While I Sit on a Beach
Assuming you’re asking your teammates to simply cover for you (and not do your entire 40-hour-a-week job), you shouldn’t feel guilty. This is part of working with others! This week, Karen handles your clients for you. Next week, Karen goes camping and you handle her emergencies.
(If that Karen example didn’t do the trick, a small gift for those who chipped in never hurts.)
But Here’s the Thing, I’m a Very Important Person…
Oh hello there, Beyonce. I didn’t know you read The Muse.
Oh? What’s that? You’re not Beyonce? Then pray tell, what are you doing that’s so very important that everything will fall apart without you? I know, that feels mean. I’m positive you’re very important and I’m sure you’re a vital part of your team (in fact, I’m 100% sure of it, because it’s unlikely you’d still be there if you weren’t).
But there are few professions that involve emergencies that aren’t self-induced. And by that I mean that one person involved is saying things like, “ASAP,” “Vital,” and “Iceberg dead ahead!”—making everyone feel like the company will come crashing down if the problem’s not resolved immediately.
If this person’s a colleague, then keep in mind that the call is coming from inside the house and your untimely (or lack of) response probably won’t spell disaster. Now, if the problem’s coming from a client, then, unfortunately, you do sometimes have to play by their made-up Panic-Room timeline.
However, that doesn’t mean you personally have to do that. Remember those people you identified earlier as being the go-to folks while you’re gone? Well, they should be included in your OOO message, meaning they can handle the situation. (And if they can’t, they’ll default to the “text you in case of emergency” plan.)
OK, if I’m Being Honest Though, I Check My Inbox on Autopilot, Sometimes I Don’t Even Realize I’m Doing it Until I’m There
If this is at the root of it all, let me help you out here.
- Turn off all notifications.
- Move your apps to a “Do Not Open” Folder, like below
And there you have it: Every excuse you’ve ever made for checking in—destroyed. Now, of course, I’m not delusional. There are some jobs (and industries and bosses) that make disconnecting impossible. And if you’re in one of those, do the best you can. But before you just give into the fact that “this is how it is,” ask yourself who’s putting the pressure on you to stay on top of your inbox—your company or you?