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The Essential Ingredient to a Work-Free Vacation

A well-written, definitive, pleasant out-of-office message, that includes where to go if someone needs urgent help (other than your mobile phone), is without doubt the most important skill one can master for a peaceful two weeks away.
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A work-free vacation is considered a fantasy in our technology enabled realities of today. We are always plugged in, available and reachable. Unless you decide to take a trek through the undiscovered mountain towns of northern Siberia, chances are pretty good that if someone from work wanted to get a hold of you while you are out of the office, they will be able to do so.

But while we are quick to blame technology as the culprit for our inability to unplug, the truth is we are the guilty party. We are ultimately in control of our time, our response to technology and our availability to others. So take control of your work-free vacation by learning to write a pleasant, helpful and effectively unreachable out-of-office (OOO) response.

Your OOO is the email/voice mail message that tells people what to do, where to go or who to talk to in your absence. There is a right way of creating an OOO and a wrong way. The wrong way is to let people know, "That you are out of the office but will be checking emails periodically and will respond when you have a moment." Or, "That I will not be checking my emails, but if your matter is urgent, please call me on my mobile phone at 111-555-1211." You might as well just say, "I am on vacation but I know you can't live without me and I really don't mind being interrupted during my family time, so here's how you can contact me." You have given people permission to contact you while you are out, so they will.

A well-written OOO that will earn you two fairly peaceful weeks of rest and relaxation should read as follows: "Thank you for your email/phone call. Unfortunately, I am out of the office on vacation for the next two weeks. If this is an urgent matter, please call Susie Support at 555-1212 and she can direct you to someone who can help you. Thank You." This simple statement is wonderful on multiple dimensions:
  • You start with a pleasantry -- everyone likes to be thanked for writing/calling
  • You do not apologize for being out of the office on vacation. In fact, you are very up front about where you are! I do like to believe that people, at their core, are nice - and for that reason, if someone knows you are on vacation, they will be less likely to interrupt you. Also, you are setting a great example for others -- if you can take two weeks of vacation and admit it, you might inspire more people to do the same thing.
  • You give your writer/caller an option. You help them solve their problem by giving them someone else to call. You have given them a solution to the problem that you are out of the office.
  • Ending your OOO message with a simple thank you leaves no expectation that you will ever return their message. So often we create expectations that we will respond that then root themselves so deeply in our psyche, our guilt-ridden consciousness feels the need to respond to even the most benign email. This is a waste of time and frankly creates more work for you and the person you are responding to. So don't tell people you will respond to them. Don't set that expectation. When you come back from vacation you will determine if you need to respond and if you do, you will. If you come back from vacation and determine that you do not need to respond (i.e.: the deadline passed, you don't have valuable insights to lend, the issue was resolved 10 emails further down in your queue), then you won't feel guilty about just deleting their email and never thinking about it again.

A well-written, definitive, pleasant OOO message, that includes where to go if someone needs urgent help (other than your mobile phone), is without doubt the most important skill one can master for a peaceful two weeks away. As you sit on the beach drinking your tropical drink and watching a sunset with your loved ones, send your need to be important and responsive out to the ocean, never to be heard from again.

For more by Gayle Hilgendorff, click here.

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