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Taking a holiday? Take an Email Sabbatical too!

Taking a holiday? Take an Email Sabbatical too!

Have you ever returned from a holiday more stressed out than when you left?

Is the reason because you came back to a gazillion email messages that managed to convey high pitched anxiety even in text with some exclamation points for added pressure?

Surely a holiday should be a break from the insanity not a procrastination of it?

Sometimes you need to realize and accept that when you take a holiday you need a real break.

Well I certainly do!

I don’t want to be tethered via email or social media.

I want to go offline.

AND I also want to come back without the onslaught of messages that would take me weeks to unbury myself from.

Sounds ideal.  And it is!

I did it three years ago for a whole month and I lived to tell the tale!

Maybe it’s time I did it again!

The idea is simple – here’s what to do (next time you plan a holiday)

  • turn off your email and delete it.
  • set up a filter and send all messages to trash
  • send a bounce message telling people their message wasn’t received and that they should resend it after X date or send you the contents via snail mail (for those who want to get the message off their plate of to-dos)
  • this isn’t just a typical out-of-office delayed response message, but a very clear sign that the message was not – and will never be – received. This way, you come home refreshed from your holiday with an empty inbox.

Of course you don’t want to p..s people off and you will if you just turn off your email with no warning so here are some tips to successfully take an email sabbatical . . .

  • Step 1: Schedule that holiday.  We’re talking holiday not a long weekend. You need time to decompress. Schedule it ahead of time. I’d recommend at least two weeks so that you can really relax. You’ll spend the first week of it still shell-shocked from stepping away from the computer anyhow.
  • Step 2: Communicate with colleagues. Long before you’re headed out on that holiday, tell people that you intend to be gone from X to Y dates. You can tell collaborators months in advance so that you can make sure that you’re all on the same page and that everyone has everything they need.
  • Step 3: Manage expectations. Talk to everyone who relies on you. Schedule a meeting before you leave and schedule one for when you return. Agree on the to-dos and create a contingency plan for issues that might arise while you’re unreachable.
  • Step 4: Create a backdoor for emergencies. Identify someone that is willing to serve as a buffer for you that you can check in with every 3rd day or so who people will be afraid to contact unless it’s an emergency. You could for example use your mother for this one or some other family member.  Colleagues might feel weird about calling your mother, but they’ll do it if it’s an emergency. This is a good safety net if you don’t feel like you can be out-of-reach for that long.
  • Step 5: Send a final warning note. A week or two before you depart, send a note out to everyone reminding them that you’re about to leave in case they need anything from you. And then turn on your out-of-office notice to warn people that you’re about to disappear into the void. That way, you catch any notable issues.
  • Step 6: Make your email go poof!  Add an away message / auto-responder that will catch people’s attention and inform them that you’re gone and that their message will never be received. Then filter ALL of your email like you would if it were spam. Use your favourite mail program to send everything straight to the Trash. Bye-bye!
  • Step 7: Disappear. And do it for real. Seriously, take that holiday. You need it. There’s nothing like a holiday to rejuvenate and make you better at your job. If you come back refreshed, you’ll have better ideas and be more on top of your game. There’s no gimmick here. This is basic logic. We’re all often overworked and maxed out and when we’re stressed we don’t function well. Use your holiday. Use it well. Cherish it. And don’t work while you’re on holiday. That. Defeats. The. Point.
  • Step 8: Re-entry. When you’re back, quietly turn everything back to normal. Reach out to the people who depend on you the most for a check-in. Make sure to schedule time to give them what they need. Be attentive, be supportive, be holiday-refreshed calm.

This may not be for you, I appreciate that.  But do give the idea some thought.  Your future self might just thank you for it!

And remember – communication is the key to an email sabbatical.

Disappearing without properly making certain that everyone has what they need is irresponsible and disrespectful and people will get p’ed off. They’ll be offended. They’ll think you’re all high and mighty. But when you go through steps to make sure everyone’s covered, it’s amazing at how well people respond. And, you might even find others start taking email sabbaticals thus guaranteeing everyone gets the reset they need from time to time.

When I tried this a while ago people asked me if I was frantic about the emails I must’ve missed.


What’s funny is that, aside from the first 48 hours where people liked to test my bounce message, people stopped sending me email. With all of these steps in place, people actually left me alone.

Did I miss anything?

Sure I did.

But I don’t fear missing out because I know how important it is to truly, genuinely, actually take a break.

Being burnt out is crappy.

When I’m burnt out, I’m a crappy employee, (I know I’m self employed, but I’m crappy employee to myself)  a dreadful friend, and a terrible person to be around.

It’s well worth missing out on a few things in order to make sure that I’m who I want to be.

So go ahead, don’t be afraid, and don’t make excuses. Next time you take a holiday. Take an email sabbatical too!


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