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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pushing Bounderies: Checking work email while on vacation

I checked my work email during my vacation last week. As a confession or something that might shock, that ranks up there with, "I pick my nose while driving" or "I like singing along to Cher". However, on principle I had never checked work email during vacation because there are boundaries. Work and vacation cannot exist at the same time. If you're doing work than you are not on vacation. There must be a physics equation that includes variables like time, temperature, alcohol, and work to express it.

For those whose jobs require checking email at all times, these principles don't apply and I should get as much sympathy as Octomom would for getting her lips sunburned. Anyone in that situation can stop reading in disgust or rip me a new one in comments about how I am whining.

Speaking of whining, my vacation wasn't really a vacation. I returned to the Midwest with my family to visit more family. Flying just feels like a harrowing experience now and I would feel safer on a wagon train that was under attack by Native Americans than on a plane. Also, more comfortable. I didn't sleep well, got sick, and I spent too much time in the suburbs at family events. Checking work email was entertainment compared to the vacation.

In a typical world, my vacation involves going into the wilderness where you can't even pick up an FM radio channel let alone an internet connection. Therefore, checking email is never an issue. I consider that distinction to be important in today's world where it's too easy to let the latest communication tools control us. Ultimately, this is about a control issue for me. I control my vacation time and will fight off anyone attempts to control it.

The typical reasons that I hear for why people check work email sound like loss of control to me. There is the worry that there will be so much email to read the first day back that it will be overwhelming. There is fear that there will be something really important that won't get done because only you know the answer. The self-employed just can't stop working. All sound like loss of control of me. If anything really important happened while I was away, I would deal with it first when I got back. Everything else that wasn't really important can wait. It's nothing that prioritization can't solve.

In this regards, email is often a misused tool. When I read about companies that have No Email Fridays, I think that is a company that has very serious communication issues. Eliminating a tool should not be cause for a holiday. It's like having No Power Point Wednesdays (which actually would be a really good idea). If a company misuses email to such an extent that they have to ban it for a day to get out from under it, there is a much larger issue.

I consider not checking work email while on vacation to be a larger issue than just cleaning out the inbox or keeping an eye at what's going on in the office. It's about boundaries, control, and how to properly use a tool.

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