The “real vacation” may be the most elusive experience in modern business.
Ironically, I have friends who hold me up as some kind of an example because I’m “only” connected to work 358 days per year. That’s because in recent years, I have had the good fortune to be able to take cruises vacations during the kids’ Spring Break. Even with enhanced WIFI on the modern ships, it’s an excuse to turn the laptop off for a week while putting the phone into a cabin safe for the duration. But, as someone who otherwise has spent hours upon hours away from home and office, over the past decade plus, of working in rental houses, relatives’ living rooms, hotel rooms and in lines at theme parks, I don’t hold myself up as a model of anything other than the quandary of the professional in the current age.
When this year’s Spring Break called for landlocked plans on the West Coast, I had to figure out how to, somehow, clear my head even with a phone on hand. Sure, I could spend a full 52 weeks completely connected. Plenty of business owners and communicators do that. But I have gotten used to one true “week off,” if possible.
After thinking about it, it made sense, whenever possible, to be available via phone and text in case of an emergency of any kind, personal or professional. So, I knew I wanted clients and colleagues to be able to reach me that way. But what about the 200 emails a day I get, on average, that require a response? In a given work week, that’s 1000 emails and all of the brain space that comes with them.
I decided to take a vacation from email, at least Monday through Friday. I let clients know ahead of time (they were supportive) and set my out of office message accordingly. I knew my outstanding colleagues would be able to handle truly urgent matters, and they did, which I appreciated greatly. Work-Life Balance is one of our core values and we rely upon one another in order to live up to it.
During the week, I took a couple of work-related calls. I answered a few work-related texts. I kept up with news online. I had access to the Internet to help me get around and communicate with my wife and our teens, even when we weren’t in the same place. I had access to social media, but wasn’t on it much because I was otherwise occupied. Most importantly, I actually felt like I was on vacation for the entire five weekdays, much as I had when the phone was in the safe on the cruise ship. The key, I believe, was the vacation from email.
A few times, I caught myself opening email on my phone, during a “down” moment, like standing in line or walking from the car. It was completely out of habit and showed me how addicted to the thumbstrokes I really am. While I pride myself in my responsiveness, that was troubling, as it made me think of how often I do that in elevators, parking garages and everywhere else I have a free few, if otherwise inopportune, seconds.
One way or another, you’ll be able to get me via email for the next 51 weeks. That’s part of the gig. But I think I may have discovered the secret to one week of refreshment per year, even when the Spring Breaks aren’t for the parents anymore.