Tomorrow, I leave town to join my extended family for a short vacation in Maine. I’ve vacationed in Maine almost every summer of my life. It gets in your blood and you crave it. My oldest traveled up there last week with my parents. Little A and I begin our traveling adventure tomorrow morning (without MJ). I’m scared. We take two planes and a 2-hour bus. Yes, I realize what I’ve gotten myself into and that is why I’m scared. If you have not figured out from earlier posts, Little A is a handful. I took her to my office for a few minutes today and she managed to email someone a blank email, unplug something from my computer and write on one of my files with a yellow highlighter, all in a matter of 30 seconds. The airport is going to be a complete nightmare.
As I take a break from packing this evening, I recall something a colleague recently said to me. During her vacation two weeks ago she “went completely off the grid.” In other words, no email, no phone calls, no computer. She said it was wonderful.
It is hard to go off-grid these days but I believe it’s important to try. We all need a break from work. In fact, I believe it is important for our physical and mental health to disconnect and relax. I will never understand people who think it is noble or career-advancing NOT to take vacations. We need them. They make us better, more refreshed, productive workers. I will never forget a seasoned attorney bragging, during my second year of practice, that he had not vacationed with his family for more than five years. I’m not kidding, he was proud of this fact. I just felt sorry for him. That same year, I attended a seminar for female attorneys during which we discussed work-life balance. One female attorney told us a story about how she left her two young kids at a child care center at Disney World, flew back to Ohio for a meeting with a Judge, and then flew back to Florida to enjoy the rest of her vacation – WHAT? Come on people, that is ridiculous! After ten years of practicing law, I have concluded that my clients can live without me for a week. Everyone survives. I am not that important. With some good planning, we can all go off-grid if we choose to.
So, how does a working mama go off-grid? I have a few suggestions.
First, create an auto response for your email. When someone emails your work account, they will immediately receive an email message informing them that you are out of the office. This is extremely helpful to your clients or customers. They are not waiting around for you to respond. If yu use Microsoft’s Outlook to view your email, click here for step-by-step instructions on setting up your vacation email response. If you do not use Outlook, simply Google “auto email response” and the name of your email service and you will likely find step-by-step instructions. Here is my auto response:
I will be out of the office from July 10 – July 15 with limited access to email. If you need immediate assistance please contact my assistant XXXXX at (email and phone number). I will respond to your email when I return to the office on July 15. Thank you.
Second, contact clients or customers whom you know need a little extra attention (a/k/a needy) and let them know you will be out of town for a few days. Provide them with an alternate contact (someone in your office) whom they can contact in case of an emergency. If not someone else in your office, how about another colleague in your profession? I have a friend who is a psychologist and while she is on vacation, another psychologist in town takes her calls. I realize this tip does not work for all professions. However, the week before I leave on vacation, I either email, call, or write a letter to my needy clients to let them know I will be out of town. I do not give my clients my cell phone number. We have three attorneys in my firm and I update at least one of them on potential issues that may come up while I’m away. This helps eliminate client freak-outs.
Third, if you have a voice mail system, set up a vacation message notifying callers that you will be out of the office from X-date to X-date and will return calls when you are back in the office. Your staff will let callers know during the work day that you are out of the office but many of my clients call me in the evening and leave messages. Those clients will know not to expect a return call for a few days.
This fourth tip requires some restraint on your part – don’t check email on a laptop or your phone. There are actually ways of turning off the Wi-Fi on your phone – try it. You can leave your phone on for emergencies if you want but don’t call the office. Let your staff and colleagues know that you will not be calling the office and that they should only call you in case of an emergency. Sometimes you may have to define what constitutes an emergency. The fact that a client calls upset that I’m not in the office is NOT an emergency. People can calm down and wait.
Fifth, ask a trusted assistant or colleague to review your mail. My line of work is chuck full of strict deadlines. Have a knowledgeable person in your office review your mail carefully and determine whether something needs immediate attention. If so, have your staff forward it to someone in the office that can address the issue in your absence.
With a little preparation, notification to clients/customers, and preparing your staff and colleagues for any issues that may come up while you are gone, you can go off-grid.
Let me know what you do to prepare for vacation.
STAY TUNED FOR ANOTHER POST SOON ABOUT TIPS FOR TRAVELING ALONE WITH A 2 1/2 YEAR OLD.