It All Behind
How connected are we to our inboxes, voicemail,
offices, email pals, wired friends, and other
electronic specters? Answer this question: After
someone asks how your vacation was, what's the
next question out of their mouths?
For me, it's always this: "How many emails
were waiting for you when you came back?"
Not too many, I'm sorry to say; I was checking
email the entire trip.
Taking It With Us When We Leave It All Behind
Despite our protestations to the contrary, all
too often we're taking it with us when we try
to leave it all behind. The average carryon
doesn't contain only a sweater and a change
of clothes suited to the climate at our destination
anymore - it includes a PDA; a laptop with converter/phone
line/extra battery; a cellphone, a pager, phone
cards, email passwords, etc. etc. etc. And even
if we have the courage to step away from that
info portal and data stream, we can feel as
much adrift as liberated.
And it's not just because we're afraid to stop
working. Staying connected doesn't always mean
working - the torrent of information, gossip,
and email idling can sometimes seem like work
and be anything but.
Recently a colleague went on vacation during
a very busy period of the year. He had planned
the two-week vacation for months, and was attending
a wedding overseas, so they certainly weren't
going to reschedule because he was in the middle
of a negotiation.
He told colleagues, friends, and family that
he wouldn't be checking email, phone messages,
or with assistants. He did make one concession:
he gave out phone and fax numbers of his hotels
The result: he received not one phone call,
came home to an almost empty email box, and
was caught up in a day.
I'm not advocating ditching your responsibilities
and work to disappear from the data trail entirely.
I couldn't give that advice, because I don't
take it myself. I'm simply saying that life
will go on if, just for a few days, you cease
perpetually clicking the Check Mail icons; you
turn off your cellphone; you stop dialing into
your voicemail at every unoccupied payphone.
Choose Your Weapon and Stick With It
The torrent of new gadgets once seemed full
of promise for me; from the lowly pager to your
own hard-drive on the Net. But as these gadgets
came and went, showed up in all the tech, biz,
and lifestyle departments in an endless parade.
Even the novelty of my cellphone has waned;
when once I reached and surpassed my monthly
time allowances regularly, now I'm literally
Phones. PDAs. Pagers and portable computers.
Push-button technology to the end of our days.
My advice: Pick One.
For me, the laptop does it. The killer travel
app of the laptop, email, is versatile (I can
send and receive faxes, check any number of
email addresses, even receive voicemail) and
asynchronous (I can read and answer on my time).
If I've prepared correctly, anything I need
to respond is right on my laptop.
If you're not tethered to your computer, a PDA
or simply a cellphone with a load of numbers
stored in memory might do the trick just fine.
Most of us are looking for some middle road
between accessibility and privacy. There are
ways to stay connected without disappearing
Some essential tactics:
1) Set up a vacation/out-of-office email auto-reply.
Most folks, once they see one of these, will
leave you alone for a few days.
2) Change your voicemail messages. Let folks
know that you're not available, and the day
of your return. (One exec I know adds a day
to his return date - if he's back on a Monday,
he'll say Tuesday to buy some time to catch
up, and will return calls on Tuesday.)
3) Give out only hotel and fax phone numbers.
If there are potential emergencies, and you
are absolutely indispensable at home, give out
hotel phone and fax numbers. Colleagues and
friends who wouldn't think twice about sending
an email or leaving a phone message or calling
your cell to chat with you on the beach will
never go so far as to leave a message with a
real human being.
I recommend this even if you travel with a cellphone.
4) If you tell people you'll be checking messages,
they'll expect you not only to check messages,
but to consider, return, and act upon all messages.
As if you were at work.
5) Pick choice words in all vacation announcements
(voicemail or email). "If your problem
is URGENT;" "If this is an EMERGENCY…"
6) Cellphone voicemail. Use it. Just because
the phone rings doesn't mean you have to pick
it up. If you are in a meeting or already speaking
to someone, unless you are expecting an important
call, to answer another phone is outright rude.
If I sound old-fashioned, so be it; I'm simply
not sure at what point a ringing phone became
a reason to stop in your tracks.
7) Unsub from all wire services, professional
mailing lists, new book release notifications,
hobby listservs, anything that dumps messages
into your email box
without prejudice. You're likely going to delete
it all without reading it anyway, and it's likely
going to crash your email app, so just get it
over with. And if your service starts bouncing
mail back to listservs, you're going to be extremely
8) Don't give out all your numbers. On days
when I'm on the road, I've come home to the
following: a message on my home phone that says
"I'll call your office." A message
on the office phone a few minutes later that
says "I'll call your cellphone." A
message on the cellphone that says "Where
are you? I left a message at your home and office."
Then they got online, and left an email.
9) Return calls after office hours (or during
business hours if you're calling a residence).
Many problems can often be solved by simply
leaving a message, but if you call during business
hours and actually get someone on the phone,
it can be very difficult not to be dragged into
whatever is happening.
10) Make all your contacts at the same time.
If you absolutely must check in, do it in one
fell swoop, and be done with it. Fire up your
computer, check your email and voicemail, return
calls and email, and make notes in a single
sitting. If you spread it out in small episodes
throughout the day, you're never really away
Things to Leave Behind
1) The extra battery. Outlets are everywhere.
2) Redundant technology. Checking email with
the cellphone, phone messages with email, all
of them with PDAs, leads to unparalleled data
clutter. My advice, as mentioned above: pick
your app, and stick to it.
3) Email addictions and other habitual behaviors.
The early morning email check, the late evening
email roundup - these tend to cut into the very
best times of the day, the time you should be
reclaiming, especially if you are on vacation.
4) Overactive vocal cords. Please, no reason
to shout into your cellphone so we all know
how important you are. We won't like you any
less if we don't know all your business, and
in truth don't care about your business, really.
The Low-Tech Option
On one recent two-day weekend trip, I hauled
a full laptop, complete with a tangle of connectors
and cables, a cellphone, an address book, a
tape recorder, and a printed/emailed/memorized
to-do list, all so I could do about 90 minutes
work. And that work wasn't even very efficient.
As a matter of fact, it was a waste of time,
energy, and patience, as well as carryon space.
On my next trip, I'm bringing one essential
tool: a notebook.