Recently, a young working mother shared a story with me—“vented” a story, really—that is unfortunately all too common in today’s business environment.
She was on a road trip with her husband and son, and they were bound for a special dinner out, at a restaurant her young son had been wanting to visit but had never experienced—a national chain with no outlets in their hometown.
But just as they were being led to their table, her ever-present work phone buzzed, and she saw a message from her supervisor. Even though she had requested that weekend off well in advance, it seemed there was a report that had suddenly become urgent—and demanded her attention.
So while her husband and son tried to enjoy the restaurant’s offerings, she sat at the table, glued to her laptop, cranking out edits on that suddenly high-priority assignment. (She didn’t quite finish in time for dessert, but was able to take a few bites of some leftover cake on the way home.)
Sadly, this is a far from uncommon occurrence, especially during these post-pandemic days, in which we’ve seen the ever-blurring line between business and home life almost disappear completely. And the solution invariably hinges upon one of the all-time champions in the “Easier Said Than Done” sweepstakes–unplugging from work.
How many times have you managed to eke out a few days off, but feel obligated to leave with those fateful parting words, “don’t worry, I’ll check my email!” And how many well-meaning colleagues caution you against just that, telling you to “relax,” disconnect and take some real time off? (Unless THEY need something, of course.)
Well, it’s just not that easy. And as we just observed a holiday weekend that celebrates a national assertion of our independence, declaring our OWN independence from the electronic ties that bind us to our workplaces remains strangely, and frustratingly, hard to do.
Here are some of the reasons I hear most often for NOT unplugging—and some thoughts:
“It’s just not a good time.” Well, is it EVER? Think about it—if you had scheduled your vacation days a week earlier, or a month earlier, or at ANY point within the last year, would it really have been any easier?
If there are activities underway that simply MUST be dealt with, try using one of the “3 D’s”: deflect (pass them on to a friendly colleague), delegate (hand them off to one of your direct reports), or defer (find a way to reschedule them to a later date–also known as “strategic procrastination.”) Ask yourself an important question: if it can’t wait, what will happen if it does?
But be careful to avoid the fourth “D”: denial. Because your responsibilities are not going to go away—take care of them quickly and efficiently, and get back to your top vacation work goal—not working.
“I’ll just check email, that’s all.” Fine. Hope you used an out-of-office auto-reply, but OK. A quick look-see can certainly keep your inbox somewhat manageable and non-intimidating simply by deleting all of your unsolicited offers, and group replies that don’t apply to you.
But if you can’t help reviewing emails that DO require action, set up some quick folders to sort them by client or priority, to be dealt with that Monday you sign back on. Just remember to make sure the sender knows you’re out—they may respond with a friendly “don’t worry, it’s not that urgent,” that most welcome of email replies.
“If I don’t do a little work, I’ll be buried when I come back.” Well, guess what? Even if you DO, you’ll still most likely be buried when you come back. If you’re a busy person, you know full well the rest of the world isn’t lounging on the beach just down the road from yours.
Take some steps to create a workable return: keep your first day back as meeting-free and call-free as possible. There’ll be plenty of small talk coming your way from your team, bringing you up to speed on what you missed—it may not be necessary to schedule it, at least not right away.
And consider devoting an hour or so to sifting through your messages and emails the night BEFORE you return—not having to face a massive pile of inquiries and alerts that first morning back can make your return much less stressful.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for a little help from the boss. First, they may be in a better position to help divert your workflow to others while you’re gone. And second, and perhaps MORE important, it may prompt them to cool THEIR jets a little while you’re gone–and maybe think twice before calling you at your son’s favorite restaurant.
“I’ve still got deadlines—the world doesn’t stop.” There’s no arguing that point. But if WE don’t stop, at least for a moment, we will start to run more and more slowly, as the rest of the world gains on us.
Accept the realities of time off, and crank things up a little the week before your departure. It’s no crime to put in a little O.T. to get ahead of the game, especially if it helps to put your mind at ease during your break.
And yes, there will ALWAYS be new developments, but you’ll be a lot better equipped to handle them if you give yourself some truly relaxing and peaceful downtime. Brilliant ideas from your boss don’t arrive on a schedule—but acting on them can.
The world will still be there when you get back…and there’ll be plenty of time for you to GROW BIG… when you GO HOME!