The holidays approach. Getting out of the office and on vacation is one of the of the hardest things to do when you work for yourself. Ironic for the many attorneys who chose solo or small firm practices precisely to have a better quality of life – right? And, as technology advances, our abilities to escape work-related email gets harder. Thanks to the ubiquitous smartphone – which has given us flexibility like never before – our work is with us like never before. Fortunately, we can use technology to fight technology – allowing you to actually enjoy that vacation you've earned.
Let's put it this way: if your spouse or family has ever felt like a third wheel to you and your smartphone, this post is for you.
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 three or four days 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 I will be out of town from Thanksgiving until Wednesday, December 2. 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 December 2. Thank you."
In your message, include the following:
The date you will return to work. 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. Much of that worry is probably unwarranted. In any event, 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.
An "under-promised" expectation for a reply. Let people know if you'll be replying while on vacation or when you return and how long that may take. You're on vacation, so be conservative. That way if you do reply to someone quicker than they were expecting they'll feel special.
Use words like "personal vacation" or "out of town with family." We've found that when people know you're really out on a true vacation, and not just a work related thing, that they're more likely to leave you alone. Leave the details of your trip out, knowing that you're gone is fine ... they don't actually need to know you're on a dream trip to Tahiti.
Emergency or alternate contact information. One of the best ways to feel comfortable venturing out on vacation is to simply know that you can be reached in an emergency. Whether it's your staff that has this information, or something that you provide in your out of office message, knowing that you can be reached if absolutely necessary will help you disconnect from constantly checking your email.
Subject: Out of Office Until April 17th
I wanted to let you know that your message has been received. However, I am out of town on a family vacation until April 17th. During this time I'll have very limited access to email so please do not expect a reply until after the 17th. If you require immediate assistance or if this is an emergency please call 555-555-5555 to relay your message. You may also reach my associate at email@example.com.
Bonus Tip: If you don't want to give out a personal cell phone number, sign up for a free Google Voice account that will forward calls to your cell phone, but will have its own, separate greeting and phone number.
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.
Even after all this, it can be hard to totally relax if you're not completely sure things are okay on the business front. After all, it's your very livelihood – including the hard work that made a vacation possible in the first place – that you've temporarily left behind. It can greatly set your mind at ease to set some quick check-in times that your family knows to expect and that won't interrupt your plans with them. For example, do a quick email/voicemail check in the morning and again in the early evening. This allows you to quickly handle small things, delegate other things, and let clients know that they're on your radar for when you return.
When you're in the business of solving people's problems day in and day out you feel needed, and it can make you feel pretty important. But sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself, your family, your staff and your clients, is to just kick back, relax and recharge.
Your business won't collapse if you don't return an email within the hour. Enjoy your vacation, you've earned it.