As wheels went up for the eight-hour flight to Munich, Germany, followed by a layover and another flight to Prague, Czech Republic, I exhaled thinking, wow, finally, we really are on vacation! I had planned it, booked it, talked about it, and pictured it for nearly a year. But as we soared to cruising altitude I wondered, are any of us really on vacation anymore?
We turn the away message on but continue to check email. We say we have limited if any access to voicemail, then quickly respond to messages or have someone do it for us. It is the world we live in and responding regardless of what continent we are on is expected if only to reiterate we are away and will deal with whatever must be addressed when we return. It makes me wonder if we’ve become incapable of truly relaxing. Are we ever really able to check out anymore?
A couple of years ago we took a family vacation to Alaska. I tried to be totally present for my family but will admit every time we docked, I quickly snuck in some email time on my phone. My mom asked me what I did before I had the phone: “Why can’t you just put it away?” Hmm, interesting concept, but the thought of totally checking out caused some passing heart palpitations. If I put that “thing” away, I’d miss about 300 daily emails. Multiply by 10 vacation days and that’s a lot of catch up after re-entry.
Harvard Business Review’s Amy Gallo says “email overload” isn’t the problem; business rules, policies and corporate cultures surrounding email are to blame. In other words, email is a symptom of a bigger problem. Thanks to technology, like it or not, that is what’s expected in today’s workplace so we can choose to stress over it or find effective ways to cope. For me, responding to important emails, deleting others and filing necessary information for when I return is a stress buster. Sure, I still have plenty of catch up when I return, but it take less time and I am far less hassled than if I had not checked in at all.
So, what did we do before we had these “things?” Well, what did our parents do before cell phones? What did their parents do before voicemail or computers? What did parents before them do without radios or television? Perhaps they went on uninterrupted vacations where they could truly check out. Is that better? I guess it depends on your perspective. Generations before us returned to days of catch up, unreturned phone calls and sacks of snail mail. That was their world, but as we all know our world keeps changing. I still come home to calls, unattended mail and backlog as to be expected. But in today’s world of instant communications, what is a stressor to some is an advantage to others. Because I’ve been able to address work along the way, technology actually made it easier for me to relax, knowing I wouldn’t drown in my to-do list when I opened my office door. When I come home and turn my “away” message off, I can ease back to work on my own terms.