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There are certain things you should always bring with you on vacation: comfy shoes, sunscreen, an extra phone charger, etc. There are also things you should leave at home, like video games, heavy hardback books, and work concerns. If you’ve ever found yourself sitting on the beach with your toes in the sand and your mind on your office to-do list, you probably need a quick redesign on your approach to balancing vacation and career. Similarly, if you’ve ever slumped at your desk the day after vacation, horrified at the mountain of garbage in your inbox, it might also be time for a reset.
When planning for your upcoming vacation, you’ll need to add “Make Work Email Plan” to your list, along with your packing plan, travel plan, and ten thousand other “manageable” plans that make your head spin and cause you to need to use that vacation time in the first place. If you don’t make a Work Email Plan, trust me, you’re going to:
A. Check your email every five minutes during your trip, causing everyone’s time to revolve around Wi-Fi availability and turning your dream getaway into. . .well. . .remote work.
OR. . .
B. Completely ignore your work email in favor of fun, drinks, relaxation time, sunshine, adventure—and go crazy when you return, buried under a mountain of messages.
Since both of these options suck, I recommend Option C: Make a Work Email Plan.
This isn’t hard!
Making an email plan just means scheduling a few minutes every other day or each day—depending on the length of your vacation—in order to quickly eye-up your work email. This also means choosing a respectable number of messages (two to three) to reply to during Email Time. Only two or three. Seriously. Set a timer, sign a contract with yourself, or reward yourself when you only open those two or three emails—anything to keep Email Time from spiraling into your delicate work-life balance.
Then, prioritize. Decide whose emails merit responses—or even a read—and who gets to wait until you get back. Maybe the VIP list includes your boss, or the coworker you know respects your vacation time, so you know it’s serious if she emails.
If you follow this plan, you will cover the if-I-don’t-reply-to-this-immediately-shit-will-actually-hit-the-fan emails, and it’ll even help you cover the it-could-maybe-wait ones, too.
Don’t forget: If you do decide to Make a Work Email Plan, you will also need to make a very carefully-worded and enthusiastic out-of-office message for those who do rudely choose to email you while you are clearly away from the office. I like to go with a cheerful and kind automatic reply that assures the reader I will respond to their message promptly upon my return. AKA I am not about to reply right now unless this is a Level 5 Emergency. Try:
“Thanks so much for your message. I am currently away from my desk (and out of the country!) but I will respond to your email as soon as I can upon my return on X date. Have a great week.”
For me, the vacation responder works wonders. I don’t feel the need to respond to everything in my inbox, but I don’t give up valuable vacation time either—time that is written into my contract, that I am owed, and that I (actually) earned. It’s important to remember, too, that those precious days of relaxation have been shown to improve work productivity. So, by stepping away from your inbox for a few days—or even a couple weeks—you can come back a happier, healthier, less stressed employee—one even more ready to take on whatever is thrown at you.
A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.
Kaitlyn Duling is an author, freelance writer, and poet who is passionate about supporting and uplifting other women. Her work can be found at www.kaitlynduling.com.