So, you have a problem. You thought you would be enjoying your well-deserved holiday vacation with your family right now, but you can’t stop checking your work email.
You unlock your phone intending to snap a few pictures of the beautiful beach with your camera app but instead find yourself distracted by the increasing count of red notifications above the mail icon. You tell yourself you’ll just skim through a few messages, but before you know it an essay-length response is typed and a whole hour has flown by just like that.
Meanwhile, your spouse doesn’t seem too pleased with your divided attention, and you can’t blame them. You’ve been counting down the days to this vacation, and you honestly thought you would be more focused on spending some quality time with the kids now that school’s out.
And yet, something just doesn’t feel right until you’ve opened the mail app. It’s like an itch that needs to be scratched.
Know that you are not alone in checking your email more than you would like during the holidays. In our modern, fast-paced and technologically connected world, the boundaries between the personal and professional spheres increasingly blur and stretch. Work-life balance might be something that we all strive for, but this habit is more common than you think.
While some people advocate completely unplugging from the digital world (be it for leisure or work) on vacation, others believe that employees have a responsibility to stay informed of what’s happening at work even if they’re off the clock.
It might bring some clarity to get to the root of why you feel compelled to check your work email when you should be relaxing instead.
Pull the plug completely
Do you feel that not checking your mail will cause you to miss out on a project’s important developments? Or perhaps you feel a sense of responsibility towards your bosses, colleagues and clients to ensure that everything runs smoothly in your absence?
Are these worries putting a serious damper on your mood? If this is the case and you believe it is genuinely time to pull the plug on checking your emails, here are some steps you can take:
1. Inform various work-related parties that it might be hard to reach you by email for the duration of your vacation. Provide a number they can use to contact you in the case of emergencies or other urgent happenings. This way, you will still be kept abreast in the events of a real crisis.
2. If there are important clients that require immediate responses, contact them beforehand and kindly request that they direct their queries to a colleague familiar with their case.
3. As for the emails that are ultimately still sent to your inbox, set an automated response informing of your absence and direct them to another person in charge. Request that emails sent to you during this time be marked with a message priority. Such prioritisation will make for a more organised mailbox when you return to work.
4. If you are working as part of or managing a team, communicate with your teammates and ensure that tasks are appropriately delegated, divided and deadlined. Trust in your team’s ability and conscientiousness.
5. Turn off all mail notifications, badges and alerts on your phone and computer. Now you’re ready to kick back and relax.
Set limits and build your self-discipline
Others are unable to properly enjoy their vacation with the knowledge that tens of hundreds of messages will be building up in their inbox while away. The idea of having to reply to a mountain of mail upon their first day back is a stressful thought in itself.
If you fall in this group, then you might be better served by limiting your time checking your emails than going completely cold turkey.
1. Try limiting yourself to checking your mail for fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen minutes in the evening. Or three times a day for ten minutes each.
2. If necessary, have your partner confiscate your phone when the time is up. You might not get through every single email, but at least you got through some.
3. Make sure to be location-conscious. It would be ridiculous if you set out to enjoy a Broadway musical with your family only to find yourself hunched over a glowing screen with the cast of Les Mis singing on stage.
4. Have the self-discipline to reply only to urgent messages. Other miscellaneous emails can be attended to when you get back.
Ultimately, the whole point of a vacation is to take a break from work to recharge and reboot yourself. Whether you choose to go off the grid or check-in at fixed times during the day is up to you. You should not be feeling guilty for taking some well-deserved time off to spend and your family. Having a clear head after a relaxing vacation will also help you be more productive and creative when you return to work.