As you contemplate your summer holidays, consider using that time for a vacation from e-mail.
That's the advice of Chicago-based communications consultant David Grossman, who has experienced the joys of unplugging on his own vacations – most recently spring break, while in Mexico with his partner and two children – and wants others to join in. He is asking people to sign an e-mail-free vacation pledge.
If that seems hokey, the amount of time most of us are plugged in during vacations is downright foolish, so you might want to choose hokey – or simply adapt his ideas. "It's hugely liberating," he said in an interview.
And if you lead others, consider the value of an e-mail break for your staff, encouraging them to unplug while on vacation. That will, of course, make it even more important you fulfill your own pledge, serving as a proper role model.
The pledge asks you to commit to the following statements:
1. I will recognize that it's important for everyone to take time off.
The process starts with the mind, accepting the value of recharging and reconnecting with family and friends. That means pushing back the limiting belief many of us carry that we need to be available 24/7 even when on vacation, Mr. Grossman says, and there is no value in stepping back. "But there is. It gives us perspective on work and life," he insists.
Not stepping back, he feels, says something about how you lead. If you can't remove yourself from work for a week, you have not done a good job empowering people and keeping them properly informed so they can handle situations that arise. "You haven't set people up for success. It's like a child who always needs his parents," he says.
2. I will adjust my mindset and focus on my intention to disconnect.
A big challenge is putting your intention into action. How you feel about the pledge will affect whether you implement it. So keep repeating to yourself the reasons you are taking this break and what it means: "I will plan to not have access to e-mail, and not engage with work. I commit to having a vacation; not a 'workcation.'"
If you feel yourself getting shaky, remind yourself that if you were vacationing in a locale without the Internet, you would make the best of it – and this too will work out.
3. I will set an example. I will … model the importance of taking a true vacation for my staff.
You should signal to your staff that it's fine to check out for a vacation – they and the organization will benefit. "It's a huge opportunity to show that you value working hard and also being present with loved ones on vacation," he says.
4. I will prepare those with whom I interact regularly.
You can't decide the day before your vacation to try this. That will boomerang. You must plan ahead. A week or two before the vacation, make a list of whom you normally interact with and what they need to handle in your absence – whether your boss, peers, subordinates, or clients. You want to make sure they aren't stranded so you can unplug guilt-free, knowing they are properly armed.
That may seem formidable but he says it's one of the easiest steps in the pledge. The hardest steps are the first two – adopting the proper mindset.
5. I will be 'present' for the right people.
The challenge when away is resisting the urge to check e-mail in order to be present with "the right people" at work. You may need to remind yourself that, on vacation, the important folks to focus on are those with whom you are sharing this special time.
"We talk of being present. But it's also a present for you – being together with loved ones," he says.
6. I will share this pledge with my family and those with whom I am vacationing. I will let them know my plans to disconnect and ask for their support.
He believes it's futile to think you can do this by yourself. "Anybody who needs change needs support." Let the others with you on vacation know how they can assist you. They shouldn't be your police force, but your support corps.
If you are a freelancer – a one-person business – who can't totally shut down, make a pact on when you will occasionally plug in and when you won't.
7. I will remind myself that most problems work themselves out.
Trust the process you set up. In an emergency, have a way for people to contact you; just knowing that safeguards exist will relieve your mind. On spring break, his staff texted him with a matter they considered urgent. He used it as a chance to teach them that it wasn't. Contacted on Friday, he told them it could wait for Monday when he was back. "I coached them and went back to vacation," he says.
8. I will resist the urge to reconnect on vacation.
If you start to waver, reread the pledge, distract yourself, and look to your fellow vacationers for support.
"It's possible to not be chained to e-mail. It may be challenging. It may require us to change how we operate. But the payoff is significant," he concludes.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column, Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter