How to make the out-of-office reply your friend:
Recently, I stood in a lovely condo in Southeast Florida around 8:00 in the morning as my son was eating and my parents and I were getting ready for a day on the beach.
In that moment of perceived relaxation, I almost had a full-blown panic attack as I looked at my iPad and saw the emails rolling in.
Questions—that could best be answered by me, but were being handled by others because I wasn’t responding—filled the screen and anxiety filled my brain. My heart started to race as I sat down to type, with the hope that my answers would be sufficient enough to not bring on follow-up questions. My pulse sped up as, within moments, an additional “ping” filled the air, mixing with the sound of breaking waves.
Then, my son asked me a question and I still regret the tone of my voice as I answered, “Can’t you see I’m in the middle of something?”
Ask me how many memories I have of being on vacation with my parents when I was a child, and watching their heads buried in their phones. The answer is zero. I have zero such memories. I know that history is on their side, as when I was a child in the mid-80s, the only person with a phone on the beach was Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street.”
I can’t tell you how many times I wonder if my son is going to grow up with memories of the top of my head instead of my eyes. But I kind of already know the answer. At school, he prepared a lovely All About My Mommy book for Mother’s Day.
Here are a few of the highlights:
“She likes to work.”
“My mom is as smart as work.”
“My mom is as busy as working.”
“I love my mom because she works so hard at work.”
I love to work. There, I said it. I like my job and the people I work with. I like creating training modules and writing contracts. I like contributing to an organization that is trying to help others better their lives, and I can freely admit that I would make a terrible stay-at-home parent.
Regardless, the last time I checked, the show can absolutely go on without me.
Here are some tips I’m going to remember the next time I turn on that out-of-office message in my email. I hope they help you too, if, like me, you are worried that work can’t work without you:
1. You can’t get fired for using vacation time that you’ve earned. I don’t care if you don’t respond to one voicemail or email while you’re gone. If you are on approved time off, you should not be receiving a “Dear John” letter upon your return.
2. The work will get done when you get back. It will be waiting for you, and it will get done. After my last vacation, I returned to work and guess what? I answered every email and returned every call. It got done.
3. A “heads up” can serve you well. Send a message to your regular contacts in advance of your time away and let them know you’ll be gone and that you will not be responding. You deserve these boundaries and the people you’re vacationing with do, too.
4. Remember how you treat those you work with when they’re on vacation. If you’re like me, you want them to enjoy their time away. They want the same for you.
5. You’re just not that important. This isn’t harmful self-deprecating talk here. This is the truth. This is a solid reminder that life (and work) goes on, but that your children will not always be small and will never again have their first convertible ride in a red Camaro along A1A. Be here now. That’s where you matter.
May vacation time be the time you dreamt it to be when you spent hours picking the beach where you would leave your footprints, the mountain you would climb, or the music festival where you would high five strangers from all 50 states.
You deserve it.