Email on Vacation is a Thing of the Past

Since leaving my job in 2006 I haven’t taken a true vacation. I’ve taken plenty of trips, many of them fun and relaxing, but at no point have I ever gone more than a business day or two without checking my email. Often I just checked it and moved on in a few minutes, but plenty of other times I got sucked into something and lost an hour or two that should have been spent having fun. It’s impossible to unplug when you’re still tethered to your inbox.

One of the many tweaks we’ve made to our vacation policy has been to start a company-wide Google Spreadsheet called “Roles & Responsibilities”. That spreadsheet lists out every business process (within reason) and a corresponding owner of that process. My R&R section includes things like programming, server management, insurance, and snow days.

At a high level this would be incredibly useful if someone quit, but we’ve found the biggest benefit to be vacation days. It’s rare to go more than a few weeks without one of the six of us taking some time off. Our rule is to send out a company-wide email outlining the R&R’s that you need covered while you’re gone. Sometimes it’s easy to forget to pass along Facebook posting or checking the PO Box because it’s so ingrained in your day to day. By cross-checking the spreadsheet we’ve almost eliminated those situations where someone forgets to pass something important off.

But…it doesn’t solve the email problem. Of course, there’s always the option of just not checking your email, but when you do that two bad things happen:

  1. Important action items go unread, even with a vacation responder setup since there’s not always someone on the other end reading the auto-response (think newsletters or automated emails like shipment tracking)
  2. You fear returning to an inbox full of important unread messages

I pondered these issues for a while and then brought up an idea to my partners: any time someone goes away for more than a few days, someone else should check their inbox. They agreed, and this week I’m covering an inbox for someone for the first time. It’s going great: he won’t return to a massive inbox (I’m deleting and archiving per his instructions) and we’ve been able to take care of a few issues for him to lighten the workload when he returns.

I realize this seems super obvious, but for some reason it took us until now to figure it out. I think part of the reason is that we all want to be connected to the business 24 x 7 x 365 and it’s so easy to be connected with email on our phones that we’re never really in the position where we can’t check email. The problem is that the constant wear and tear without a break slowly adds up. I’m glad that now we can check out.

I myself am looking forward to finally disconnecting a few times this year. It’s long overdue.

7 comments on Email on Vacation is a Thing of the Past

  1. Jeff says:


    How do you transfer email account access?
    Do you simply give the credentials to the person covering for you?


    • Adam McFarland says:

      Hi Jeff,

      You could give the person covering for you credentials, assuming you trusted them, and then just change them when you return.

      I like to use Gmail’s mail delegation feature. You can just set that up and then revoke access when you get back. Assuming you’re on Gmail, this is a great feature for vacations, shared inboxes (like customer service), or for assistants.

      – Adam

  2. Tim says:

    Really great idea! It’s a huge milestone to be able to truly unplug, some never find that luxury. Even leaving the entrepreneurial world I’ve only just arrived at that position. We went away for a weekend and I didn’t even bring a computer, first time I’ve gone out of town since 2001 without a computer – it was glorious! No work phone, no email, no nothing.

    I can’t wait to see the post when you return from your first true time off in years!

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Glad to hear it Tim! It’s not just business owners – many businesses now a days want people checking email at night and on weekends. It can be a challenge to unplug! I’m looking forward to a solid week away soon this year, and then I’m planning a longer trip to Europe in 2015 where I should be able to really get away from my computer.

  3. Chris says:

    I definitely understand having problems with unplugging from all aspects of business. That’s great to hear that you can unplug! Many people are very jealous of that, including me!

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Thanks Chris. Keep at it, it takes time and commitment. Like I wrote in the first sentence, it’s been 8+ years since I’ve been able to take a real vacation!

  4. […] a long weekend off to go out to the Finger Lakes for my sister-in-law’s wedding. With our new vacation email policy in place my business partner was covering my inbox for me, and everything else important was being […]

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