The Art of the Unread Email: How to Live Your Best Beach Life

dog on the beach

I’m great at vacations. I’m a pro napper, a fantastic shopper, and an even better eater. But then I started working at Nebo. By no means did anyone ask me to work over my break. On the contrary: any time I responded to a Slack, I got yelled at in all caps to delete the app from my phone and relax. But I love Nebo and I love my job, so leaving felt selfish and wrong.

The first few days were easy. It was the weekend and it wasn’t like anyone else was working. But then Monday happened, and the emails started flooding in. Only a handful of them were actually addressed to me, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t still reading them all, because what if someone needed me?! What if there was a question directed at me all the way at the end? And I missed it? And the whole office blew up?!

I imagine back in the day things were a little different, but I never worked when emails couldn’t come to your phone, so I can’t know for sure. I do remember being little and walking past smoke-filled hotel business centers on my way to the pool and wondering why the hell all those businessmen were shouting into their phones and taking notes in their Speedos (I lived in Europe. Swim trunks don’t exist there). The upside to those smoky rooms, though, was that once they left, they had no choice but to disconnect.

But then came the smartphone and with it, the inability to leave work where it belongs — at the office. Last week, any time I pulled my phone out to take a picture or send a Snapchat, my email icon was screaming at me. “You have 47 unread emails!!! Please check me!!!” And then inevitably I’d check and I’d miss my photo op because someone updated a Basecamp thread I didn’t even need to be on.

Long story short, I wasn’t really relaxing until I did the unthinkable: I turned off my work email.

But leaving for a good vacation is more than just turning off your phone. It’s really about how you approach your days off ahead of time. The only way you can truly relax is to feel comfortable leaving the office. If you’re constantly worried you forgot something, you won’t be able to unplug. And the only way to ease your worry is to be prepared.

Create a Process

Getting together a leaving-the-office process can be tough and time consuming, but is worth it in the end. Once you have a good process in place, you can use it forever.

Every team and person has their own preferences when it comes to vacation planning, but there are a number of things every solid process should have.

First, create a shared document for you and your team. Then document everything. And I mean everything: write down client deadlines, deliverables scheduled for when you’re gone, client information, project information, who the go-to person on each project is, etc. etc.

Then create a second document with day-to-day to-dos and deadlines for your backup. Don’t make them figure out when things should be done — do it for them.

Finally, if you really want to solidify your process, create a third document where you keep track of who has backed up which projects in the past. That way, if you need to leave again in the future, you can keep track of who’s been around the block before.

Plan Ahead

Having a spreadsheet in place isn’t enough – you need to follow through. Start talking about your schedule with your team two weeks in advance. It might seem like overkill, but the more time everyone has to prepare for your absence, the more time they’ll have to prepare.

Make sure you deliver all the information your backup needs ahead of time. Inform them of all deadlines, forward incoming emails, and CC them on new ones. Give them time to look it over, come up with questions or concerns and get back to you. Then start scheduling hand-off meetings where you can go over the actual day-to-day that needs to happen for each client or project. The clearer you are with your instructions, the less likely your backup will panic if something unexpected comes up when you’re away and use your In-Case-Of-Emergency vacation phone line.

Trust Your Backup

This is important. If you don’t trust the person who is looking over your projects, you’re never going to be able to leave your work-brain at the office where it belongs. Trust, admittedly, can sometimes be hard to summon, but the good news is that in this case, the trust you need to have is really in yourself. If you’ve given your backup all the info and assistance they need to handle it, they can handle it.

Remove Temptation

Delete all your office-related apps from your phone. Yes, really. If you don’t have email on your phone, you can’t check your emails. Don’t miss out on a great pict because you got distracted by the “151” flashing on your inbox. Don’t miss family time because you realized you had 402 unread Slack messages. It’s the one time where out of sight, out of mind is going to work in your favor.

Leave Your Self-Importance at the Door

Look, I’m the first person to admit this step isn’t easy. In fact, I’d even go as far as to say this is the hardest step on the list. Why? Because everyone wants to feel like they’re important, and even integral, to a project’s success.

Before I left for my trip, I told a coworker that – even though I went through all the above steps and trained my backup myself – I felt like I was leaving my baby home alone with access to all the knives and matches in the house. But truth be told, as much as my mother likes to tell me otherwise, I’m not that important. Other people are more than capable of doing my job while I’m away. At Nebo we’re all team players, and if people can help me out when I’m there, they’re certainly capable of helping me out while I’m gone.

And as a final control, ask yourself: what would happen if I had zero access to the internet the entire time I’m gone? If the answer is “all will survive,” you’re golden.

Remember Why You’re on Vacation

While it may seem tempting to check your email every so often, or read up on your Slack messages, it keeps your brain in work-mode. The reason we need to take time off is the same reason we need to take small breaks during the day: if you work non-stop for an extended period of time, your productivity and ability to do your work well diminishes. It may seem counterintuitive to leave the company for the company, but in the end it’s better for everyone, because we all know that happy employees = good employees, right?

At least, that’s what I’ll be telling myself when I’m sipping my margarita on the beach in Mexico next week.


Written by Emily van den Berg on August 31, 2017


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Written by
Emily van den Berg
Senior Email Marketing Strategist