We're rapidly approaching summer vacation season. This time of year — perhaps more than any other — encourages us to unplug and drop off the grid. Summer seems to justify a little more distance from our daily to-do list. I, myself, am writing this while I'm on my way to Nova Scotia to do one of my "bucket list" bike rides, Cape Breton's famed Cabot Trail. Today, having spent several years looking for my own exit from the grid, I wanted to lay out some strategies for unplugging and unwinding in these lazy hazy days of summer.
The “You'll Never Know I'm Gone” Strategy
This is most often used by those who feel they have to justify their time away by remaining digitally tethered to the office. The theory here is that you are capable of juggling a running chainsaw, several pieces of industrial heavy equipment and a pissed-off cougar without dropping any of them. It's most often preceded with these words, "I'll have my laptop with me and will be constantly checking email. Also I'll have my cellphone — don't be afraid to call me."
I've done this, usually when I had promised the family a vacation but the world was collapsing at work. A word of advice: this strategy sucks on multiple levels. It just doesn't work. The world will continue to collapse and you will earn the familial wrath of your significant other and any offspring you may be towing along. Plus you'll look — and sound — like an idiot when you try to find a quiet corner of Disney World (hint: there are none) to take that vital conference call only to find you've chosen the very spot where Chip ‘n Dale do their character greeting.
Not that that ever happened to me.
The “Daily Triage” Strategy
After trying the above, I switched to the Daily Triage. Here you limit your tethering to set times during the day. For me, it was early morning and late in the afternoon. I'd get up before everybody else and spend a couple hours sifting through my in-box, dividing the contents into the "the world's on fire," "it can wait til I get back" and "straight to the trash" folders. Then, in the afternoon, I'd check to see if there was anything urgent that couldn't wait until tomorrow. A trusted screener back in the office had my cell number for any critical emergencies that had to be dealt with immediately.
Although better than the "you won't know I'm away" strategy, this has its drawbacks. Often, my allotted work stretched well into vacation time as I struggled with fires that refused to be put out. And I found my stomach twisting into a knot every afternoon around three as I started to anticipate the crises that were awaiting me on my laptop. Plus, even with triage, my in-box bloated to the size of a full-grown water buffalo upon my return.
The “OOO” Strategy
After trying the first two strategies, some executives then move to the OOO strategy. Here you set an automated message that notifies the senders of any incoming emails that you're "out of office" and to not expect any meaningful response until you get back. This way, at least you're setting expectations accordingly. It theoretically untethers you from day-to-day monitoring. But it's not for the faint of heart. I personally never had the nerve to do this when I was active in the industry. I was always too afraid that all my clients, along with my entire company, would slip through the cracks in my absence. I wish I had, however. My vacations would have been much more enjoyable.
The “Leave Me Alone” Strategy
If the OOO strategy requires nerve, the Leave Me Alone strategy requires cast-iron cajones. To be honest, I've only heard of one person doing this and he was a senior academic who could never be fired. But the sheer chutzpah of this appeals to my inner rebel. You set your OOO message to respond to all incoming emails as above, but with a very specific message along these lines:
“I'll be out of the office until (insert date here). I will not be checking emails during this time. If you want me to respond to you, email me again after (date from above) and I will reply at that time. Assume that I will not see any emails prior to that date. “
No anxiety. No distractions from your vacation. When you get back, you simply trash any emails received during your time away, so no bloated in-box. And, in all likelihood, no job to return to. Let’s face it, you’re basically telling everyone to piss off and leave you alone. In theory, it seems a beautiful thing. In practice, there may be a few flaws.