To Connect to Work on Vacation, Or Not to Connect? That is the Question…

We are entering prime vacation season.  The time of year when people ask me, “Should I answer my email and check my voicemail during vacation?”

Ah, remember the good old days when you could only “check in” during vacation by picking up the phone and actually talking to another human being.  So, for the most part, you didn’t do it.

Now, with the click of a mouse and a voicemail password, you can anonymously stay “connected” with the greatest of ease.  And, for some people, that’s the problem.  Clearly many of us still struggle with boundaries between work and vacation. This includes me. 

Everyone is different.  Some people aren’t distracted by connecting to email and voicemail during vacation.   It gives them a sense of control and peace of mind.  That’s fine, but I am not one of them.  If I email or answer voicemail, I start to work.  And I have a hard enough time disconnecting from work mentally (one of the downsides of loving what you do professionally), that I need to make a clean break to reap the benefits of getting away.

In February, I blogged about resisting the siren call of technology and going cold turkey during vacation.  I didn’t connect for a week—no email, no voicemail.  And perhaps I felt a bit self-satisfied.

Emboldened by my winter victory over work, I approached our two week vacation at the beach with confidence.  Piece of cake.  I informed clients and colleagues that I’d have limited access to email and voicemail during my vacation, and would connect with them upon my return.  I activated my “out of the office” automatic email reply.  I recorded my voicemail message.  I was ready.

How did it go?

Everything went according to plan for the first few days.  But I’d failed to consider how a recent purchase would impact my resolve:  I’d bought a “smartphone,” which is a cell phone that also receives my personal and work emails.  Since our beach house didn’t have a phone, my new smartphone would function as our everyday phone.  For the first few days, even with the phone sitting on the counter, I didn’t check my email.  “Yeah, I can do this.  No sweat.”

Then, something went wrong.  I saw a story on television about a work+life issue I’d been thinking about recently.  I immediately wanted to reach out to a colleague to get her opinion.  “Wait,” I caught myself, “You’ll talk to her when you get back.”  But I kept wondering what she’d think or if she’d even seen the story.  Then I saw the phone sitting on the counter.

I told myself, “Okay, one email won’t hurt.”  So, like a chocoholic who thinks he or she can have one piece of candy, I sent the email.  Sure enough, my colleague wrote back and included her thoughts on another project.  Naturally, I responded and began thinking about what we should do with this other project as well.  How quickly my innocent “quick” inquiry gained momentum.  Thankfully my colleague snapped me back to reality with the message, “Go away, you’re on vacation!”

“That’s right, I am on vacation!  What just happened?”  I emerged from the fog of my brief exchange realizing I hadn’t even made it half way through the first week of vacation.  I still had ten days to go!  Had I been a little too confident?  Let down my guard?  Underestimated the power of my smartphone?  Guilty, on all three counts.

I regrouped determined to try again.  This time instead of forcing myself to go cold turkey for ten more days (which seemed like a long time considering what was going on with work),  I decided to set aside one hour during the beginning of my second week of vacation to quickly look over all of my emails.  But, until then—nothing.

Happily, knowing I would have an opportunity in a few days, I successfully did not respond to any emails until the next Tuesday.  At which time, I sat down and chose to respond to the three most time-sensitive messages.  I provided the information requested, and then didn’t respond again until I got back in the office on Monday.

Would I consider my efforts to disconnect from email over vacation a failure?   No.  It only reaffirmed what I believe is true for everyone:  we need to consciously manage technology.  Technology can’t manage us.  I did fail to recognize temptation of my new smartphone.  While 99% of the time the phone makes my work+life much easier, I need to be clearer with myself about when and where I will use it especially on vacation.  Because one quick email quickly snowballs.

And, when I inevitably fall off the email wagon again during vacation, I will show a little more respect for the power of technology’s siren call, and try to say, “It can wait.”  Because, for the most part, it really can.  But even work+life “experts” are human. Good luck and happy vacation!

Join me on August 15th for the next Work+Life Fit Blog (then, it’s back to every week)!   

3 thoughts on “To Connect to Work on Vacation, Or Not to Connect? That is the Question…

  1. You know, I think there is some deeper issue here, and I don’t mean just for Cali but for all of us that feelccontinually \”pulled\” to our computers/Blackberries/Smartphones/etc. WHY do we feel compelled to check in on work? Loving our work can certainly be part of it– but what else is contributing here? Let’s take the gloves off and really look at this: Do we feel guilty for taking time off work? Are we afraid that we might miss some big opportunity? Do we get bored with our families sometimes and want \”adult-level\” intellectual stimulation? What else? I’m trying to dig deep and think what the root is. My guess is that it goes back to the role work plays in our lives… with the more one defines themself by their work, (and probably the more successful one is at it,) the more the pull is to participate in it even during planned, even much-anticipated \”downtime\”. What do you all think?

  2. At night I have to cover up my blackberry so I don’t see the red light email blinking.

    I do look on vacay because I can’t stand coming back and feeling overwhelmed. I try to quickly make sure there are no emergencies and delete. I’d rather do just a tad on vacay or weekend then have the awful overwhelm feeling on Monday/when I’m back.

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