What work do you take on vacation?
The July 4th weekend is just behind us and I spent a good part of last week thinking about summer and how my expectation for work-free vacations might or might not be about to disappear with the launch of FamiliesGo!.
Back when I had a staff job at a major business magazine I had an editor who asked me to miss an evening flight that would start my annual vacation to do an eleventh-hour revise on a story. Now, he'd known about my trip for well over a month and I'd filed this story several weeks earlier. Still, he needed to make this request because he'd only gotten around to reading my piece at 4:00 p.m. the day after it was supposed to go to press. I declined to cancel my flight and instead scrambled to do some additional reporting while my boyfriend waited in the lobby with our luggage and the taxi I'd called left to find another fare.
We made the plane—barely. But it was a learning moment for me. When I got back I had to acknowledge that many of the people who were successful at that publication would have skipped their flight without blinking an eye. In truth, if I had to do it over again the only thing I'd do differently would be call the editor out for disrespecting my time before leaving to catch my taxi. So shortly afterward I began to plot my transition to freelancing—the only way to guarantee that I'd always have a boss who respected my vacation time.
And for the 12 years I've been self-employed, my R&R time has been mine. I believe it's necessary to disconnect every so often to avoid burn out and gain a new perspective on my work—not to mention have fun with loved ones and be a well-rounded person. I've never toted my laptop on a personal trip and I generally leave out-of-the office messages warning I won't have regular access to email or voicemail for several days.
This summer things are different. My husband managed to wrangle three weeks of vacation—no small feat these days—and we're taking my German-speaking three-year-old to Munich, where she has cousins her age and an uncle who owns a bakery (really, what more do you need on a vacation when you're three).
Free-agent Eileen would have shut down the office for three weeks, no question. But I'm not sure business-owner Eileen can. Truth be told I like the idea of a website that can continue to generate revenue while I'm exploring charming Alpine villages. But I also know that a young business is a lot like a small child; it needs a certain amount of ongoing attention to thrive. It seems unwise to let a website that's just a few weeks old sit idle for 21 days.
But I don't know how much I can realistically plan to do. I have no idea if the homes and inns we'll be staying in will have Wi-Fi, or if access to my website platform will be the same from overseas. I don't know how much work I can expect to cram in around visiting friends and family and sightseeing with a jetlagged child. Also, I imagine Munich's famous beer gardens are not so good for productivity.
In addition, I still believe in the necessity of downtime. And I don't want to be the parent with a phone attached to her ear while waiting in line to ride the Tea Cups at Legoland. Or the workaholic who's too busy texting to enjoy the scenery on a stunning Alpine lake.
Here's what I'm thinking: I will bring my laptop (in my suitcase, not on the plane). I will work one to two evenings each week. No days. I'll work ahead to have fresh content written, uploaded, and formatted so that I just have to make it "live" from wherever I am. I'll monitor email and answer notes that really can't wait. I will try to defer as much as I can until I'm home again. As with everything else on this new venture, I'll have to see how it goes and improvise.
I'd love feedback and advice from Inc.com readers. Have you tried to unplug from your business on vacation? How did it affect your business? If not, where do you draw the line? What work do you take with you on vacation and what do you put off? How has working on vacation affected your wellbeing?
I'll respond to your comment…unless I'm already out of town when you post.
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