How Not to Let Your Phone Ruin Your Vacation

Consider not checking your email at all while you’re away. Honestly, if you’ve set up a good auto-response and have left instructions for your co-workers, what’s the worst that could happen? (If your answer is that you’ll miss a firestorm, then your “worst-case” scenario is actually a best-case scenario.)

If total abstinence sounds too extreme, commit to checking your email only once or twice a day, ideally from an actual computer. To keep yourself on track, put your phone on airplane mode while you’re out — or, better yet, delete your email app entirely, reinstall it when you want to check, and delete it again when you’re done (or delete the email app and check through the clunky browser version instead).

You may also want to install an email management app or extension, such as Inbox Pause (part of Boomerang, it allows you to have your emails batch-delivered at a time and frequency of your choosing) or Inbox When Ready (which hides your inbox, while still allowing you to compose new messages and to search your archives — a great option if you need to write an email but don’t want to get sucked in to answering messages). Also, use time differences to your advantage: You probably do not need to check your inbox when people at home are sleeping.

If there are people whose emails you feel you simply cannot miss — for example, your family or your boss — create V.I.P. lists (you can follow these instructions). Then adjust your notification setting to receive notifications only for messages sent by your V.I.P.s. (On Apple devices, V.I.P. emails will appear in their own separate mailbox. I recommend deleting all of your other mailboxes for the duration of your trip so that you see messages only from your V.I.P.s. You can always reinstall the others later.)

If you’re worried about missing emails from potential clients or anyone else whom you can’t pre-identify as a V.I.P., make sure your auto-response says when they can expect to hear back from you. If you must, you could include your phone number and instruct them to call — but do you really want to be courting new business while you’re on vacation?

If you’re worried about coming back to an overflowing inbox, consider taking the approach of the German automaker Daimler, which offers employees the option of automatically deleting all messages that arrive while they’re away. Senders get an auto-response saying that the recipient is on vacation and that their email will be deleted without being read. The auto-response provides contact information for someone who can help immediately, and says that if the message is important but not urgent, the sender should simply resend their email when the person has returned from vacation. (To do this on your own, write an auto-response and then set up a filter on your email account so that any message sent to your address will automatically be deleted.)

If at all possible, don’t use it. Social media apps are specifically designed to draw us in, which is why I recommend posting a status update saying that you’re away and then deleting the apps for the duration of the trip. This may make you feel anxious, especially if it’s a major work or leisure activity, or you have a large following — but it’s an excellent opportunity for self-reflection. Why do you feel so compelled to share photos of experiences you’re in the middle of having?

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