Yes, I am on “vacation.” One of those do-nothing, go-nowhere vacations which is my favorite kind given that I do live on Cape Cod, it is August, and the price is right. I’ve rarely, if ever, been able to completely go off the grid during a holiday. The classic was 1998, when my wife and I spent two weeks in France to celebrate my 40th birthday. I was at Forbes.com working with the managing editor and one of the top reporters to uncover the Stephen Glass hoax at the New Republic (later turned into a movie Shattered Glass). Right up to the moment I had to catch a cab to Newark for the flight we were in crazy mode trying to get the facts quadrupled checked. I continued to work by cell phone right up to take off, landed in Paris, got back online, and kabloom, the story hit the fan over the weekend, causing a front page sensation in the NYT and global press.
My wife was not amused as I stayed glued to a phone. I wanted to be in the newsroom, but there was no way I could detach myself from the story.
So vacation has always meant for me a fully charged cellphone, occasional breaks back into conference calls, and a lot of email scanning with an occasional reply if the subject warrants an immediate response. This five day break is no different. Forthcoming product announcements, long-standing conference calls, and the blog that never sleeps (not this one, Lenovo’s Design Matters) keeps me working two, maybe three hours a day. While the workplace psychologists may caution us worker bees to completely unplug, the reality is few people can afford to. So, here is how to cope and decompress at the same time.
1. Just say no. Not every mail needs a reply, not every conference call needs to be dialed into. People will understand.
2. Fight your fires, not your inbox. Scan subject lines, look for the exclamation points and red text, and make terse replies, not lengthy ones.
3. Do it all early in the morning and late in the evening. Compress the work into blocks. Don’t spread it through the day.
4. The cellphone is the leash. Laptops don’t work when there is sand in the keyboard: a cellphone in the beach bag is fine. Turn the ringer off — bring an index card with conference call in numbers, put on the Borg headset, hit mute, and listen. When you have to talk the rest of the call will have to put up with the background sounds of seagulls and jetskis. Too bad.
5. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. No one likes a whiner. You’re guaranteed to be very bored and very left alone in retirement, so don’t get resentful that work creeps into vacation — there are no hard and fast lines left in life.
6. Noble sentiments of fully disconnecting and decompressing are just sentiments.
7. And set your autoreply and voice mail messages ….