Two Weeks Without E-mail: Best Gift to Yourself Ever
Okay, everyone, I did it. Two weeks without email was the best gift to myself ever. My new year's gift to you? Advice: Go reserve your own email-free vacation now.
On Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, the last day of work before I returned on Jan. 4, 2010, thousands of years later, I set my email to zap itself into oblivion. I was nervous, worried I would be a little lost without the email accounts to which I'm a tetch addicted, without Twitter updates even.
I was wrong. Not only didn't I crumble -- despite one major crack as you'll see -- but instead of being lost, I was found.
Just before 5 p.m. that Friday, I typed an audacious email auto-reply to tell people who wrote me that I was, well, deleting their messages:
SUBJ: Email not received: Dec. 19 - Jan. 3
Thanks for writing. In order to take a vacation Dec. 19 through Jan. 3, I am turning off my email account. Any messages sent to me during this time will be deleted and I will not receive them.
I welcome your emails after I return to the office on Jan. 4. If you have an urgent issue related to BlogHer Inc., please contact Co-founder Elisa Camahort Page at firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise I look forward to hearing from you when I return.
The second step of my plan was then to fall at BlogHer Co-founder Elisa Camahort Page's feet and thank her tearfully for working with the entire BlogHer team to allow me to run out of the building without a care in the world.
But I ran across a snag. Our hateful Zimbra email system (Hate it. Did I say hate it? I do. Hate. It.) was unable to file emails directly into the trash. Instead I had to create a file to kill later. Which meant the looming temptation to read said emails, a dangerous bet given my proclivities to just-one-more-email-itis. I had no other choice. And so, the email folder "Holiday 2009 Emails" was born.
Then I fell at Elisa's feet, as planned. And ran away, to turn into Santa.
It worked. I used my iPhone for its alarm and text function only, sneering at the daily single email that popped up, a postmaster warning me that I was nearing maximum capacity on email storage. TILT. I laughed and tossed it into my cavernous purse. Gee, I have too much email, oh really??
Then I ... slowly slipped away from thoughts of Twitter and email. I cooked five pies in a morning. I carpooled to basketball tourneys. I cleaned toilets. I completed all my shopping on Dec. 21, the speed with which my debit card apparated in my hand clearly powered by a force much greater than the solstice.
What would that magical force be? That would be focus. I felt free. Free to concentrate fully on everything I did, without my inner workaholic keeping tabs on when I needed to thumb the email button again. I had completely lost my perspective on the volume that inner nagging voice had achieved -- imagine AOL's golden-toned audio message, "You've Got Mail!", only this time screeched by Jack Black after a 72-hour-bender with Tenacious D. By the time I left for vacation, said inner nag was overwhelming my ability to concentrate on just about anything else.
The resulting silence? Golden. By the time I finally landed on the slopes of Whitefish Resort, formerly known as Big Mountain, I was Zen central. Only the 13-year-old could catch me, and he's bigger than I am, so no fair. Not even six kids happily warring with extra-loud Guitar Hero at midnight could shake me. Rock on, dudes -- Mom'll be reading herself to sleep.
Zen until my first and only email anxiety dream, that is. Thursday night, three days before returning to the office, I woke up and paced. Why? I kept dreaming that I arrived at the office and found the mother of all to-do lists waiting because I had the audacity to ignore emails. I might be away but the work was still there, right? How did I know that my nightmare wouldn't come true, that a pulsating Holiday 2009 Emails file wouldn't explode all over me on Monday, Jan. 4? Could the not knowing what was hiding there perhaps be as bad as the tsunami of 3,000 emails I spent the last weekend of my 2008 vacation answering?
Absolution and peace arrived that day in the form of a text from a colleague. He asked an innocent work-related question, saying he just wanted to get something in my mind so that we could discuss when I returned to work.
I didn't hesitate: DELETE. Ahhhhh. With that single act, I got my anti-email mojo back. No matter what was in my to-be-killed email, I felt vindicated for daring two weeks off.
I slept fine over the weekend. On Monday morning I walked into work and pulled up the dreaded Holiday 2009 Emails file. Just 1,238 messages, the result of consolidating list-servs and unsubscribing frantically before the holidays.
After showing the file to Elisa, promising her I would not read them and retrieving an Amazon gift card from a family member kind enough to give me the heads up, I did it. I trashed Holiday 2009 Emails with a smile on my face. Buh-bye.
What has amazed me since is the number of people who have taken me up on my offer to reach out this week - and congratulated me on the email sabbatical, as danah boyd calls it. "I hope you had a great holiday!" wrote Chase Poffenberger, Executive Vice President of Academic Travel Abroad, Inc. "We all loved your out of office message—I hope you were able to get 'untethered!' "
Thanks, Chase, I did -- thanks to the amazing BlogHer team, who gave me permission to do this.
I urge you to do the same for your next vacation -- how about it, think you would want to? Think you could?
I'd be happy to help... :)
Happy New Year.
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