Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Answering email while on vacation

I'm probably just wierd

I love my job.  I feel very lucky to do a job which I really enjoy, however this does mean that switching off is very hard.   So even while I am on holiday I still want to know what the rest of the team are up to and how things are progressing.  Over the last few years I have tailored my behaviour to try and get as much rest as possible while still staying 'in touch'.  I have been through both 'complete detachment' and 'office holiday' phases and think I have found a nice middle ground.

Complete Detachment

This is what a lot of my friends and colleagues seem to be able to achieve and in some ways I really envy their ability to disengage completely from the office and just enjoy their time away.  No work email, no phone calls, just friends, family and fun.  I did try this and the worst part was getting back to the office to an email inbox that was incomprehensibly full.  I like to keep a clear inbox most of the time and the sheer amount of (spam/outdated/irrelevant) emails surrounding the few interesting email would worry me even while I was away on holiday.  Trying to be completely detached made me nervous and I would try to steal time away to secretly check my email, a bit like a child secretly eating a smuggled chocolate bar 

Office Holiday 

This is the complete opposite.  Mobile phone pinging each time a new email comes through.  Calling colleagues to get updates.  Although I felt that I was still in touch with the team this did nothing for my family life.  My wife felt that she wasn't on holiday with me at all and was (quite rightly upset with me).  The upside was that there was no deluge of email to wade through on my way back to the office.   I needed to break this behaviour but not go back to the nervous ticks of complete detachment.

Once a day email triage

This is where I currently am.  Once a day (usually in the evening but sometimes early in the morning) I will spend 1-2 hours working, however I have STRICT rules:
  1. No work related instant messaging 
  2. Only urgent coding or technical 'fixes'.  URGENT is only stuff that cannot be delegated and is holding up people if it isn't completed.
  3. Answer only the simple emails, if something needs deeper discussion or thought and it can wait then leave it in the inbox to deal with when you return
This allows me to stay in touch with the office, avoid the bulging email inbox when I return and still have fun while away on holiday.  I think my wife prefers this middle ground and I hope that those who think that I need to learn to 'get a life' can at least understand my point of view.
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