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Vacation Well: Prepare to Disconnect and Write Your Email Automatic Reply

4 June 2019

Allison talked with her clients about how to disconnect and then gathered a variety of sample automatic reply messages to help people get ready for less email or maybe even no email on their summer vacations.

Tags: allison read, balance, email, vacation

It’s the beginning of summer, and I’m helping many of my clients get ready to enjoy their vacations. The first thing I have them do is read Matt Richtel’s short article, Vacation Sabotage: Don’t Let it Happen to You. Then, we work on whatever makes them most anxious about figuring out how to disconnect during their time away. If they weren’t already worried about something, the article seems to dredge up a few anxieties along with its very useful tips.

For most of my clients, the idea of not checking email while they’re on vacation is both wonderful and anxiety producing. They fear they’ll let someone down while they’re away or that they’ll miss out on an interesting opportunity. I’ve learned the biggest worry of all is that they’ll drown in email when they return and never catch up.

If you’re still wondering if it’s a good idea or even necessary to take a break from email when you vacation, read this post. If you’re sold on the concept, but unsure of how to set yourself and others up for success, then I hope the following is helpful to you.

The first step toward achieving email disconnection is to talk about it with your closest colleagues and your important external stakeholders, customers, clients, investors, donors, etc. Start with your internal team. Tell them what you’d like to do. Share with them what I’ve written about the importance of vacationing and email disconnection.

Ask them if they have concerns about your taking a break. Talk through how your work could be covered. If they fear your total disconnection, consider picking one hour a day when you can check email, take care of anything urgent, and be available by phone to your team. Do this for the first half of your vacation and then ask to totally disconnect for the second half. Or, if people feel it’s not possible this year, ask what it would take for it to be possible next year. Whatever you do, don’t lightly check your email throughout the day. Disable email on your phone and just check it once or a few times a day on your laptop.

More often than not, I find colleagues and even bosses are open to the idea of total disconnection if you talk about it well in advance. Assuming there’s general receptivity to the idea, ask one of your colleagues if they would be willing to be the person on your email automatic reply. Offer to be that person for them when they go on vacation.

The good news is that people who email you and get your automatic reply rarely reach out to the person you direct them to; however, I think your disconnection for short or long periods away from email will be much more palatable for everyone if you leave a point of contact. Make sure that person knows who they should direct people to, what they are authorized to handle themselves, and what kinds of things you’d want them to text or call you about if you want to be somewhat available for urgent matters.

Next, you should tell your most important external stakeholders, customers, clients, investors, donors, etc. about your vacation and share your planned level of disconnection as well as who will cover issues while you were away. Start talking about this at least a month in advance for a vacation longer than a week. This spring, all of my clients were supportive and either scheduled to see me before I left for two weeks or were happy to reconnect when I returned. One client was in the middle of a very complicated human resources discrimination claim and knew that if something happened while I was away, she could contact our vice president, Rachel Brozenske.

If you’re worried about how you’ll catch up on email when you return, here are some suggestions:

  • Download all your email before you get on your return flight and process it on the way home;
  • Take an extra day of vacation after you return and unpack, do laundry, and process email before you return to work the next day;
  • Don’t schedule any meetings your first day back at work and process the email then;
  • Trust that you’ll get caught up by the end of your first week back and that much of what’s in your inbox will be handled while you’re away, no longer relevant, or spam. You’ll be so rested from your total disconnection that the email will not be as hard to get through as you fear.

Now, you need to figure out what you want to say in your email automatic reply and your out-of-office message on your voice mail. Below, I've listed nine sample automatic replies that are on the continuum from total disconnection to some availability. A few of them aren’t for vacation but may help manage expectations when you have limited email access during your work week. Many of the examples are from my colleagues at Allison Partners, but I’ve also included some from my clients.

  1. I'm enjoying my springtime vacation in Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas. I won’t be checking email while I’m away. If you have an urgent request, please contact {insert name and email}. I’ll look forward to replying to your message when I’m back in the office on Monday, April 22. Go Hoos!
  2. I’m on vacation and won’t be checking email while I’m away. However, your question is really important to me! Therefore, my colleague in Interventional Radiology, Dr. Smith at {insert name and email}, has agreed to take care of any medical-related questions while I’m away. Our receptionist, Mr. Johnson at {insert name and email} would be happy to answer any other questions you may have. Otherwise, I look forward to replying to your email when I’m back in the office on June 27.
  3. Thanks for your email. I am out of the office enjoying a holiday break and will return to work the morning of July 9, 2019. I will check email each day at 1:00pm PST and will respond to any urgent requests then. I’ll reply to any non-urgent items when I return to the office. If you have other requests while I’m away or are concerned that you haven’t heard from me, contact {insert name and email}. Please note: Due to a significant time difference, I will not be returning calls unless a matter is urgent and cannot be handled by {insert name}.
  4. Hello, I'm sorry I missed your e-mail. I will be out of the office on vacation until Thursday, May 30. I may check email periodically but will only respond if the issue is urgent. If you need immediate assistance, please contact {insert name and email}.
  5. I'm on vacation this week. I will check email once each day, but my responses may be delayed. If you have an urgent need in the meantime, please contact or message me at {insert name and email}.
  6. Thank you for your email. I will be out of the office through 6/12/19. I'll have periodic access to email and voicemail, but my response to your email may be delayed. If you need immediate assistance or have urgent requests, contact {insert name and email}. 
  7. Thanks for your email. I'm on our annual leadership retreat in the Berkshires and won't be checking email while I'm away. (At Allison Partners, we say this is wearing our shoes, since we often give others the advice to periodically disconnect and think big thoughts.) If you have an urgent request, please contact {insert name and email}. I’ll look forward to replying to your message when I’m back in the office on Tuesday, May 28.
  8. We're in the early days of spring, and I'm in the UK helping develop great general managers. Between full days and a time difference, I'll have limited time to respond to emails. I'll be back in the office on Thursday 4 April 2019. If you have an urgent need before then, please contact {insert name and email}. Otherwise, I'll look forward to responding to your email when I return.
  9. Thanks for your email. It's spring, fast approaching summer, and I'm on the road. The week of 27 May finds me in Salt Lake developing a general managers leadership curriculum before a brief holiday from 2 through 6 June. I'll do my best to respond to emails each evening before I sign off for holiday. If you need urgent assistance in the meantime, please contact {insert name and email}. Otherwise, I'll look forward to connecting when I return to the office on Friday 7 June.

If you’re struggling with what to say in your automatic reply or worried about the consequences of trying to disconnect, please give me a call at 434-295-9962. I guarantee that in 15 minutes I can help you come up with a plan that will work for your comfort level and the requirements of your organization! Finally, if you have suggestions for other good automatic replies please include them in the comment section below.


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