Reaching Me On Vacation (2016 Update)

I've written before about my strong belief in truly unplugging from work/email while on holiday. That attitude, sadly, seems to elicit fascination and admiration from many friends and colleagues who otherwise feel obligated to a) worry about work while on holiday, and thus b) check their email while on holiday.

But there is good news people: you are not nearly as important as you think you are! Neither am I! The world will survive, quite easily, without you looking at or replying to email for a week or two at a time. I have done this many times and have lived to tell the tale.

I came to my current, purist "no email" approach following more than one vacation in the early days of running Global Integrity where I ended up spending non-trivial time on stressful work issues while on holiday in some otherwise amazing location. That sucked. The low point came when I was forced to remotely referee a dispute between two employees over who opened the damn window in the office and who was being rude to whom in not shutting it when asked. I kid you not. This was an amazingly effective way to raise my blood pressure back to normal work levels, which is absolutely terrible on a vacation.

The only and best way to avoid this kind of nonsensical distraction while on holiday is to simply not look at your email. No glancing, no quick skimming, no short replies. Just. No. Email. How can you do it? Some tips:

  • Do not bring a laptop. Period. In 98% of cases you won't ever really need a laptop, even for emergency responses (see below). In the 2% of emergency cases you'll figure out temporary access to a computer if desperate times call for it (think the hotel business lounge, the villa property manager, etc). The laptop stays at home. (Oh wait, you store important email and files on your machine that can only be accessed locally? 2004 called and it wants its data management methods back. The cloud, people; check it out.)
  • Turn off all email and calendar notifications on your phone and tablet. These devices are allowed on my holiday trips because they are helpful in investigating dinner ideas, checking the weather, and researching transport options. But their evil email and calendar apps remain untouched until I touch down, literally, back at my home airport. During vacation, I make sure that those apps are set to not ping me with badge alerts, chimes, or banner notifications.
  • Set clear out of office messages (email & phone) indicating that you "will not be checking message until [date]," and leave contact details for colleagues that are backfilling for you in your absence. It's important to be clear that you won't be checking messages, at all, as opposed to the usual "I'll be slow to reply" euphemism we ordinarily invoke, which translates roughly to, "I'm working on vacation because I'm a sucker."

See how easy that was? Give it a try the next time you head off for an adventure!

Lastly, in my specific case in 2016, the following supplementary rules apply:

My colleagues at R4D (as noted in my out of office messages) will be able to reach me in a true emergency via SMS/phone. If your need to reach me during vacation meets one of the criteria below, you may contact them and ask them to send me an SMS.  Otherwise, I very much appreciate your respect for the time off and look forward to catching up upon my return.

Reasons to contact me during vacation:

  • Someone has filed a lawsuit against me. 
  • You or your organization wishes to provide financial support to Results for Development in excess of US$50,000.
  • I have won the lottery or an award involving a cash prize in excess of US$50,000.  

Reasons not to contact me during vacation: 

  • Anything that is not included in the above list.