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by Derek Loosvelt | July 12, 2018


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Gone are the days when going on vacation means you're unreachable. Now, with email, smartphones, Slack, and other tools that allow you to be in touch from anywhere and at anytime, it's hard to completely unplug when you take time off. In fact, today, many employers expect their employees to respond to important or urgent emails even while on vacation. Others employers, while not officially expecting it, silently encourage it. In addition, some employees might like to respond to certain emails while on vacation just so their inboxes and to-do lists aren't so full and long when they return. Whatever the case might be, if you do have such a position where you have to or want to deal with emails while on vacation, here are three tips that will go a long way to lightening your PTO workload.

1. Set clear expectations

Before you leave the office on vacation, always set clear expectations with coworkers and clients. With coworkers (managers, colleagues, direct reports), send them an email or speak with them in person, telling them what you intend to do as far as responding to emails and/or asking them what they expect of you. It's likely that, by the time you're eligible for your fist vacation, you've seen what's expected of others when they're out of the office. So a good rule of thumb is to follow their lead. That said, it's always a good idea to get confirmation before you head out of town. So, if you've heard that your colleagues check email once a day while on PTO but only respond when absolutely necessary, then let your manager know that that's what you'll be doing, too, while also asking your manager if that works with them.

With clients, you'll be setting expectations via your out-of-office automated response. When writing that, make sure to be clear in your response with respect to when someone can expect a reply. This doesn't mean you have to write, "I'll get back to you within 24 hours," but it also doesn't mean you can write, "I'll be out of the office from the 10th to the 20th," without addressing when or if you intend to reply before your return. So, consider writing something like, "I'll be out of the office until August 17th. Until then, I'll be checking email infrequently and will reply to anything urgent as soon as I can. In the meantime, if you need immediate assistance, please contact [MY COLLEAGUE'S NAME AND EMAIL]."

2. Do it the same time each day

To ensure that you actually get a vacation on your vacation, minimize your email checking. Once a day seems like enough for most positions (ideally, of course, you're not checking at all, but, as mentioned, that's hard to manage these days). So, maybe choose the morning or evening. If the morning, you'll be seeing what you received the day before that might need replying to. If the evening, you'll be seeing what you might need to reply to that came in that day. Morning is said to be the time of day when we're most clear and creative, and morning will also get the email checking out of the way for your day. On the other hand, you might want those clear-minded and creative mornings to yourself on vacation, and if you check email near the end of the day, you haven't left urgent matters hanging overnight. Either way, picking one time keeps you from checking in more than once a day, and will help you relax (somewhat) as you'll know that you have a small window for work and all other time for vacation.

3. Enlist your colleagues' help

In order to minimize your time working while on vacation, and to maximize your time not working, see if a colleague might be able to help you respond to urgent emails. So, for example, say a client has an issue with a report you sent and requires an immediate, rather lengthy response along with a few documents attached. Instead of just cranking out a long response and searching for those documents to be attached, think about which of your colleagues might be able to take this on without complaint. Chances are, colleagues will want to cover for you while you're on vacation so you'll cover for them while they're out. After all, everyone knows how valuable and rare PTO is. And so, in this case, you could forward the request to a trusted colleague, ask them if they'll be able to reply, while also saying something to the effect of: "No problem if not, but thanks so much if so!" Even if, in the same example, you're the only one who can craft an appropriate response, maybe a college could send along the documents, or follow up with the client in a day or so. The point is, seek help from your team, however small, and don't forget to repay that help later.

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