Getting out of the office and on vacation is one of the of the hardest things to do when you work for yourself. Technology, great as it is, always seems to have a hold on us. Fortunately, we can use technology to fight technology allowing you to actually enjoy that vacation you've earned. Following you'll find tips on how to get yourself into a good state of mind before, during, and after your trip.
I would consider myself quite wired. I can operate 90% of my business from my phone, and when I have a laptop with a high-speed internet connection there is no functional difference between my office and wherever I happen to be. The good and bad of this is anywhere could be my office, including most vacation spots. When I leave town, I try to achieve what I deem an "Emergency Available" state of mind and the tips below help with this. I work to become comfortable with the idea that I'm not as important as I think I am, recognize that most of what I do day-to-day isn't terribly time sensitive, and remind myself if a true emergency arises I can be reached. Further, I make sure at all times that clients are informed that I'm out of the office, and if appropriate, give options for staff or people to contact.
Most emergencies that come up while you want to be gone are often brewing before you leave. One of the easiest ways to let the people you're actively corresponding with know that you're headed for vacation is to turn on your e-mail "out of office" message early. Think of it as an "Almost Out of Office Message." Instead of saying that you're out of town, let them know you're about to be out of town. This way, if there's something they need handled while you're gone they can get it done now or arrange for it to be handled when you're back. This could easily be done with your voicemail greeting as well, just update it a week before you head out.
Subject: Almost Out of The Office
"Hello, I wanted to let you know that I've received this email and will reply shortly. Further, I wanted to inform you that next week I'm going to be headed out of town for a personal vacation with family. If there's anything you need handled before I go, please notify me now so that I can try to handle it for you before I leave. I'll be back in the office and working normal hours on April 28th. Thank you."
Almost every email setup has some option for creating an "out of office" automatic response message. For most small firm attorneys, it is likely found at the same place you'd log in to view your email messages over the web (webmail). Microsoft Outlook has an Out of Office Assistant, but this only works reliably if you have your own Microsoft Exchange Server or use a Hosted Exchange service. Before turning on your autoresponder, try your best to pause your listserv subscriptions so you don't unnecessarily email massive amounts of people. In your message be sure to let people know: what type of trip you're on (personal or business), when they can expect a response, and who else they can contact if they need a personal response quickly. A similar "out of office" message should be done for your voicemail as well.
Many small firm lawyers are concerned about what their clients will think if they catch wind of them being gone for anything longer than a day or two. Personally, I think that much of that worry is unwarranted. However, instead of saying you're going to be gone from April 15th through April 28th, you could simply state that you'll be back on April 28th. That way, if someone contacts you on the 26th, they won't know that you've been gone for the past 11 days.
Whether it's a process you have with a person in your office, or simply giving out your cell phone number "for emergencies only" on your auto-responder and voicemail, give clients a way to reach you in an emergency. You aren't going to enjoy yourself if you're wondering if things are crashing and burning while you're trying to relax on the beach.
Buy yourself an extra day or two to catch up. If you're planning on being back on the 26th, say that you'll be back on the 27th or 28th in your auto-responder and voicemail. That way, if something comes up when you return, you'll have a little breathing room to deal with it. If all goes smooth and you are in fact back to work on the 26th, you'll have some time to review e-mails, prioritize tasks, and can let new calls and emails go unanswered without feeling too bad.
You never know if an incoming call to your cell phone while on vacation is going to be a 10 second or a 3 hour ordeal. With the exception of calls you know to be family or friends, let all calls to your cell phone go to voicemail. Because you've updated your mobile voicemail to say you're out of the office, callers will often inform you in their message as to whether or not they think their call is a priority. Once you've listened to the message, wait until you have some down time to return the call. Remember, it's your vacation.
The reality of working for yourself is that the buck always stops at you, and there is always a worry that something will come up or go wrong. If you've warned people about your vacation, informed them that you're actually on vacation, let them know when they'll hear from you next, created a way for them to contact you in an emergency, and have given yourself a day or two of quiet time to catch up when you get back; you've really done all you reasonably can to be responsible to your clients. Go ENJOY YOURSELF.