Want to make the most of your vacation from work? Start by banishing email!

Want to make the most of your vacation from work? Start by banishing email!

Saturday November 04, 2017,

5 min Read

Picture this – your well-planned vacation is here. You are looking forward to the downtime, beer and beaches, mountains and tea. Your family hasn’t seen enough of you lately, thanks to your crazy schedule. You are looking forward to spending time with them, talking nineteen to the dozen about everything but work. Yet, even before you hit the airport, you sneaked a peek into your phone thinking it is the last time you’ll do it before your flight takes off. Over the next few days, you sit by the beach and respond to emails, get irritated with that pushy boss or client, and participate in email discussions that are far from life-altering. Sounds familiar? Email is ruining not just your vacation, it is ruining your life! You’d think that that is an exaggeration, but anything that comes in between you and your holiday spirit deserves to be called out!

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

A 2015 study by the Dale Carnegie Institute showed that a whopping 61 percent of Indian employees are willing to work extra hours without expecting any over-time remuneration in return. I get the feeling that we are yet to shed the notion that work is at the centre of our lives, when in reality, your work is only an enabler for the rest of your life. Perhaps it is time for us to shed our conditioning and make organizations accountable for all that they commit in the name of work-life balance? A complete break from work when on vacation might be a good place to start.

We need a structured process to reduce dependencies

For me, it was the simple premise of a detailed handover that listed out:

  • All the tasks that need to be completed in my absence
  • What I would do before leaving on vacation
  • Where I need help, and who is accountable for it, along with deadlines and links to relevant emails and documents

Sure, it adds to my to-do list before I leave on vacation. But the reassurance that comes with it when I am on holiday is priceless. Not disturbing a colleague on vacation needs to be seen as a two-way street. Everyone needs to see why it is important so that they too can get their due downtime when their time comes. Make it a shared, unbiased goal for everyone on the team.

I have also found that it always helps to let your key stakeholders know at least two weeks before leaving on vacation. For example, clients often get edgy when the team lead is away on vacation. Reduce their uncertainty in advance by telling them that you will be away, so if they foresee any task that needs your involvement, they can bring it up sooner. Basically, your key stakeholders need to know that your vacation will not put a spanner in the works.

Your out-of-office email is important too. I mention that I am away, when I will be back, who they need to contact in my absence, and when I will be back at my desk. I make it a point to highlight that I will not be checking emails during this time. In the odd instance that I do, I don’t respond because I already know that nobody is expecting it.

An emergency contact helps too

For your own peace of mind as well as maintaining your team’s confidence, an emergency contact helps. You will not be checking your emails or answering your work phone, but provide a personal number for truly urgent matters. Set ground rules about what counts as urgent and what doesn’t. If you are not about to lose money or business in the 10 days that you are away and no one is dying, there are slim chances that the matter is urgent.

One would argue that all of this would not change things if you cannot give up the urge to check emails on vacation. While that is true and behavioural changes are definitely important, ensuring that you leave for your vacation on a clean slate will at least ensure that even if you do check your emails, there will be little for you to take action on. But it takes intent and effort before you leave on vacation.

In all of my years of full-time employment, I have realized that we complain far too much about the lack of work-life balance but do little to enable it for ourselves. This balance can’t come at the cost of work and deliverables. But staying honest and committed in the hours you do spend at work is known to save you a lot of heartburn in the hours that you don’t. Of course, your work-life balance could be messy because of a demanding client, an unreasonable boss, or an incompetent team too. But you will not know for sure till you make a few efforts of your own in this direction. To expect a fuller life that doesn’t revolve around our work inboxes, we must collectively work towards it.

Read Also: Why vacations are crucial to entrepreneurs