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:
- 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)
- 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.