On being Out of Office

“Gone fishin'” – photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/brent_nashville/

Once upon a time, I dreamed about being “in touch” at whatever time, wherever (and whenever I was.) And then it happened – and things were sort of simultaneously wonderful and horrible. You know the feeling – you worry that things will happen when you are not available, and that an important decision would need to be made and that you need to do it.

These ideas, of course, are sheer poppycock. Balderdash. Pure silliness.

Things will continue to happen, important decisions may need to be made and you do not need to be the one to do it. In fact, the sooner you communicate your ideas to other people and allow them to make these important decisions with your intent and to understand the positives and negatives involved, you’ve just increased your sphere of influence and made it easier for you to do that thing you really wanted to do (it could be taking a few well-deserved days off; planning your next move; or just doing nothing and waiting for inspiration to strike.)

So the next time you take a vacation, try these tips:

  1. Actually don’t respond until you come back (it sounds a bit scary, and will help you batch your responses and make it a lot easier to understand what was a momentary blip and what’s actually still a problem.
  2. Respond to the inbound request by asking for help from your colleagues and giving them some room to work
  3. Add to your out of office message some actionable information (and some fun) – take a page from Matt Heinz’s book and share great resources along with the news that you’re not here right now.

After you’re back, ask yourself – what did you miss? The important things were probably still there for you to answer. (And the less important ones, already answered 😉

Vacation is for catching soap bubbles

Soap bubbles are great
Catching a bubble

Time to Unplug

The best thing to do on vacation is – well, anything that you can’t do online – and you should take the time to unplug and recharge. Getting off of your normal routine can help you recognize the parts of that routine that you should keep (and perhaps the parts that you should think about leaving behind.)

A great place to explore

Whether your pastime is beach walking, finding a new restaurant to visit, or just reading a book, vacation is a great place to explore your ideas. Try some new things; try some old things; and just try something that you want to do (just for yourself.) You might find that some of these ideas are great. And you might find (like I did) that sometimes when you go to a new restaurant there is a boy at the next table who can’t hold his dinner and barfs all over the place. The point is that you never know what you’re gonna get. Sometimes it’s disgusting, and sometimes it’s beautiful.

Don’t Forget What You Have

Vacation is also a good time to take stock of the things you have, not just the things you want to try. It’s a lot easier to appreciate friends, family, your job, and other things when you’re out of your environment and in someone else’s space. And yes, I feel very fortunate. And I’m also going to continue working very hard when I get back (but not right now.)

Gone in an instant

The best parts of a vacation are like a soap bubble: beautiful, fragile, and gone in an instant. If you are paying attention, you’ll savor them while they’re there and maybe even catch a few photos to remember them by later. But the ideas don’t have to be gone in an instant – you can take them back with you to your work and to your regular life, so that part of your vacation and stick around – until the next one.

What did you learn on your summer vacation?

Crab Racing
Try something new ...like Crab Racing!

Matt Heinz wrote a great piece this week on staying “vacation fresh.”  I love this idea, both because I returned from vacation this week and because I think Matt is always good at documenting important moments in time and extracting value and practice from those moments.  The idea behind staying “vacation fresh” is to learn from the pause that you experience during that downtime and find the daily productivity and mental boosters that you can from such a pause.

What did I learn on my summer vacation?

I learned that having my laptop was not necessary in the least.  Being almost untethered for almost a week (I had my iPhone) gave me a few important habits, some reinforced by the beach and others by intermittent network connections:

1) Batch your email activity.  This one seems easy, but is so hard to do.  I found that in a few sequences a day of intense email activity on my phone I could read almost all of my email (and feel mostly refreshed and unconnected from work).  Lesson learned: time-box the email.

2) It WILL all get done.  Also hard to stomach is the idea that life goes on while you are away from the office and that you aren’t a part of that.  You should also consider the bright side, which is that while you are away, other people are helping to shoulder the load, giving you the space to try something new or to spend time thinking strategically when you get back to the office.  Lesson learned: getting some space from work gives you space to think.

3) Do something new and fun.  I spent my time in Barnegat Light, NJ on Long Beach Island.  Chief among the entertainments of the week I spent away was my first crab racing experience (try it – it’s fun).  The basic idea is that a bunch of crabs are lined up, tipped onto a tilted surface, and water is sprayed on the surface to make them “race” faster.  Dumb?  Yep.  Fun?  Absolutely.  The announcer relayed the information of the race as if it were a Kentucky Derby stakes race, and at the end, schoolkids in the local community had a little bit more money for their local school.  Lesson learned: have fun whereever you are.

And those are a few of the things I learned on my summer vacation.  What did you learn?

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