Vacation is, in theory, an opportunity to get away from work, relax and recharge. But for many of us that proves to be a serious challenge: When our colleagues can easily reach us and our emails are an app away, is it realistic — or even reasonable — to expect ourselves to truly disconnect? “Well, that’s kind of the point of vacation, right?” said, Erika Martinez, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist. “Not only to disconnect from the daily routine, but also reconnect with other experiences and people we value that the daily grind doesn’t easily allow for.”
Not only that, but millennial life and career coach Jenn DeWall also noted the importance of disconnecting for the sake of your vacation memories (do you want memories “where you’re checking email or ones where you are doing something that makes you happy?” she questioned) and the quality of the work you’re leaving behind. “If you don’t unplug, you will be unable to disconnect and see the big picture,” she said. “You will essentially be stuck in the details of your tasks; so when you come back to work, you risk not having a new perspective.”
Sure, putting your email on the back burner is easier said than done, but it is possible. To start, “Before vacation, ask yourself, ‘How do I want to feel when the vacation is over?’” DeWall said. “If your answer is relaxed, then list the items that will help or hinder relaxation. Creating awareness can help you remember to let go of email.” Once you have that awareness, take these steps to reinforce it.
Clear and organize your inbox before you leave
You may not be into the whole “inbox zero” thing, but at least take time to clear out and organize important emails before you go. “The more you manage before vacation, the less you need to manage after vacation,” DeWall said. “Less emails to respond to after a vacation can reduce the stress and overwhelm you may experience when you come back.” Block off a chunk of time in your calendar one on of your last days in the office, and devote that time to going through your inbox.
Martinez recommended delegating any last-minute items you don’t have time to get to, so “you’re not left worrying about something that needs to be done.” For non-urgent emails, use Gmail’s snooze functionality or a plugin like Boomerang for Gmail and schedule them to appear at the top of your inbox once you’re back, so you don’t have to worry about them getting buried and forgotten.
Set expectations in your vacation responder
Some people eschew vacation responders altogether because they technically can be reached and responsive from anywhere. Don’t do that. Use your vacation responder to not only let people know you’re out of the office, but also to communicate any helpful directions (like the contact info of a person who’s covering for you) and to set expectations from day one. “In the auto-responder, be sure to communicate that you will not be answering any emails during the duration you are out,” DeWall said.
Limit your access
Once you’re on vacation, take the “out of sight, out of mind” approach and make it as difficult for yourself as you can to visit your dreadful inbox. “Delete your email app from your phone,” Martinez said. “In fact, delete any app from your phone that will distract you from fully experiencing your vacation.” The more work you have to do to access these things, the less likely you’ll be to do it.
In fact, if deleting apps isn’t enough of a barrier to inbox entry for you, try going phone-free. Leave it in your hotel when you go lie on the beach, or at least put it inside a zippered pouch at the very bottom of your bag so it’s a pain to dig out. Martinez also recommended using a digital camera instead of your phone camera — that way you’ll avoid mindlessly checking email once the phone is in your hand. And if you really want to commit to unplugging? “If you’re on vacation with someone, give them carte blanche to remove your phone from your hands if you’re on it too much and not immersed in the vacation,” Martinez said.
Pause your inbox
If you just know that, despite your best efforts, you won’t be able to resist the temptation to check your email — even if it requires going to an actual website instead of the app you deleted — get ahead of yourself by blocking new emails. “Prepare in advance by snoozing your inbox for the duration of your trip,” DeWall said. Use the “Pause Inbox” feature in Gmail or a plugin like Inbox Pause to keep new emails from appearing until you return; so even if you do slip up and login, nothing new will grab your attention.
Even if you don’t have physical access to your email, it’s possible to get mentally sucked in to what may be awaiting you. Both DeWall and Martinez recommended distracting yourself with experiences. “Go do something that doesn’t allow you to concurrently think about your inbox while you’re experiencing it,” Martinez said. “These are called competing/alternative behaviors and they help suppress unwanted behaviors and (hopefully) approximate desired ones, like enjoying your vacation.”
Take a walking tour, try ziplining, go snorkeling, or even create a people-watching game you can play on the beach with your travel companions. “Anything that forces you to be in the present moment will work,” Martinez said.
Give yourself permission to disconnect
When work seems nonstop and your to-do list seems never-ending, it’s easy to feel guilty about putting it on hold. But everyone deserves to have a true vacation. DeWall recommended reminding yourself of that fact by creating a literal permission slip to take with you. “Think about what type of permission you may need to give yourself to be able to disconnect,” she said. “For example, I give myself permission to not work on vacation and be fully present. Sometimes we forget that we need to tell ourselves that taking a break is okay. ...Pull [your permission slip] out when you’re starting to get anxious and are tempted to plug back in to work.”