Because the nature of my work requires that I am pretty much always “on” (when I am on), when I take a break or go on vacation I work really hard at being “off”. What does that mean? It means I do nothing work related. What. So. Ever. And because people have varying degrees of understanding what work actually constitutes, it means that I’ve spent a good deal of time over the years helping people understand what me not working looks like.
First I handle technology. On the eve of my departure, I set my out of office status for all emails. Thus, if folks try and contact me via email, they understand, “Oh, Alyn’s on a break” and they have a context to understand my silence. They also have an end date to my time away and I find that often “urgent” gets downgraded to “it can wait until then” (and for truly urgent situations, my out of office status provides options for other people to contact).
However, just because I’ve set my out of office auto response thing, doesn’t mean people stop sending email. So I have to do something on my side and that boils down to me not checking my email. This is very easy to do on my iPhone and iPad - just head to Settings -> Mail, Contacts and Calendars and turn the off switch to all my email. On my laptop, I just refuse to open Mail. This is a golden rule for me, because if I so much as look at a subject heading that seems interesting/important/urgent I am instantly sucked in. I’m spending time guessing what’s in the email, so inevitably I’ll read it and then even if I don’t want to respond to it, I’ll be thinking about my response to it and because much of my work requires me to think, just thinking about the email feels like work. In fact, like most thought-workers, it takes me a good day or two to unplug from thinking about anything work related which is why I am so strict about not checking email while on vacation.
Next comes my phone. I record a nice little voicemail indicating that I am out of the office until such and such a date and then I turn my phone to airplane mode with Wi-Fi enabled. I wish there was the equivelant of voicemail or out of office for text messages - putting my phone in airplane mode used to stop texts, but with the advent of iMessage most of my texts nowadays are in blue and come in over WiFi. Which is where the do-not-disturb feature of iOS 6 comes in handy. If a text does comes in, I’m not notified; if I see a little red dot indicating a new text, I may look to see who it’s from or I may not. If it’s from someone I don’t want to hear from, I completely ignore it. I don’t even read it.
“But Alyn! That’s not very pastoral!”
I agree. But I’m not being pastoral, I’m being on vacation. If I respond to a pastoral need, then by very definition I’m no longer on vacation. My wife, my kids and my personal sanity is more important than whatever the content of that text message. To think otherwise shows a lack of perspective. I’m one pastor in a team of pastors at Grace Center. There are many people who can assist this person. I’ve found that if people don’t hear back from me, they’ll look elsewhere. Obviously there are situations this doesn’t apply to, but I haven’t come accross one yet.
After two days of radio silence, I’m completely unwound, primarily because I haven’t thought about work. If AJ asks me a work related question that comes in via her email or texts (she’s slightly less restrictive than I am) I refuse to think about it and then she remembers, “Ahhh that’s right, we’re on vacation” and won’t ask me again. Again, because my job largely consists of me praying, thinking, processing and making decisions, if I am required to do those things while on vacation I am no longer resting, I am working. (Obviously I pray, think, process and make decisions while away, but the context is entirely different).
Both my boss and my assistant give me space and understand my need to totally unplug so if they do phone, then it must be pressing so I pick up. But again, this is an edge case and hasn’t happened in years.
So that’s how I unplug on vacation. After all this quiet time in my head, I’m raring to go when I get back. Often my difficulty shifts from not wanting to work to wanting to work toward the end of my vacation because I’m so rested and full of ideas. And that, I suppose, is the benefit of down time.
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