If you’re going on vacation anytime in the coming weeks, you’re going to have to ask yourself a question you didn’t have to ask when you hit the beach ten years ago: How connected will you be? Sure, you might say you’re going off the grid, but do you really? Do you want to?
The fear is that the office, or the world, will fall apart without you. And with all due respect, I’ll reassure you that they will continue to stay in motion during your absence. Far more important is to ask yourself how connected you to need to be (and why) during your vacation.
Here’s how to plan your escape—and your reentry.
1. Lay the ground rules.
First you have to decide how connected you want to be. If going off email for two weeks isn’t feasible or desirable, think about how much time you want to spend talking to people back home—not based on what you think they need, but what you want. You are entitled to disconnect for a few periods throughout the year, and this is one of them.
You may decide to bar all work email, or you might go whole-hog and pull a Baratunde Thurston and completely unplug from your social networks.
He writes that removing himself from social media included but was not limited to: “seeing, reading, downloading, syncing, sending, submitting, posting, pinning, sharing, uploading, updating, commenting, tagging, rating, liking, loving, upvoting, starring, favoriting, bookmarking, plus-oneing, or re-anythinging.” So feel free to use that as your guide.
But the key is making that decision, and sticking with it. Maybe you’d rather stay off Twitter but want to share photos on Facebook. Or maybe you need a break from both and just want to use Instagram. You don’t have to do the all-or-nothing approach, but you should take a moment to think about how your regular status checks make you feel.
In a piece published here about a recent survey of device usage and its effects conducted by meQuilibrium, 61 percent of respondents reported feeling jealous, depressed, or even annoyed after checking social media updates. And 73 percent believe devices contribute to stress. (Read more about those findings.) If Facebook brings you nothing but joy, by all means. But be honest about the degree to which your device erodes your ability to be happy in the moment.
2. Give plenty of notice.
If you’re going to be away and unreachable, it goes without saying that you must notify your coworkers and managers far in advance, so they can play for your absence. It’s not just enough to say, “Hey I’m off the grid for that week in July.” Work with your manager to identify someone who can function as your key contact while you’re gone so that any incoming requests can be forwarded to him or her.
That’s just for internal folks; be sure you also let key external vendors, clients, and contacts know when you’ll be gone and whom they can contact in the interim. In addition to setting your email’s “away” message, consider changing your outgoing signature to include your away dates at least a week or more before you go. Can’t say you didn’t warn them.
As far as your personal networks go, if you’re really serious about taking a break, you can do what Thurston did, and put a photo of you with a hand-drawn sign that tells folks you’re gone and when you’ll be back. That’ll get some attention.
3. Don’t just plan for vacation; plan for reentry.
This will make your life and your coworkers’ lives easier. Make a list of all the open projects or requests you’re working on, along with where you left off and what needs to be done while you’re away. That way, whomever is standing in for you temporarily can track and report on what happened while you were away. Coming back is hard enough without coming back to chaos.
4. Be consistent.
If you say you’re off the grid for vacation, you act that way. Because as soon as you respond to one work email, you change the game—and the expectations. In fact, what you’re doing is telling people not to believe what you say, because you do something different. And the last thing you want is for people to think you’re full of it, especially when it comes to protecting your time and attention.
Daniel Sieberg, writer of “The Digital Diet,” writes in this story about unplugging for vacation:
“If you respond to one (work) e-mail, you’ve just opened the floodgates. You’ve lost that barrier — it’s gone like a sandcastle in front of the ocean. Now that person knows that you’re really not on vacation. You are reachable and you will respond. Hold onto that. Otherwise, it’s just a slippery slope to just responding to everything. … It’s not giving you that clarity in your head that you’re seeking from a vacation — the reason you did it in the first place.”
If you want to write responses to emails, do it, but save them as drafts so you can send them all the day you get back. But until then, don’t break that seal—or you risk turning your seaside retreat or trip abroad into a business trip.