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Out of Our Minds
Tuesday, May 17, 2005 11:35 AM
Email Holiday
Kevin Salwen on Culture

A new friend, Joe Astrachan, who runs the family business program at Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta, wrote me the other day about his experience living without email for 10 days. He just plain refused, like David Spade in the Capital One commercials.

I like the way his attitude about it all changed as the time went on. I've asked Joe if I could post it here to see the reaction -- impractical or brilliant or somewhere in between. Read on...

Like many people, I love work often to the point of wearing personal malfunction. I also deal with the remarkable tension that comes from not wanting to disappoint people. I guess it comes from having a demanding dad.

But I truly do enjoy my work and the opportunities it brings. In the last three months I have been able to visit and get wined and dined in places as far afield as Tunisia, Barcelona, Palermo, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Chicago, LA, Burlington, and homes of great steaks and beer, Milwaukee, Peoria, Saginaw and Wichita!

Sounds glamorous, but the reality is exhaustion. And trying to get all my other work done simultaneously brought me to the brink of my old friend: the panic of being overwhelmed -- the same monster that rears its head whenever I forget how to say no.

I was in need of a vacation and no break in the schedule for one. In an epiphany I thought, 'What would happen if I continued working but just did not even look at email for 10 days?'

I know, I know this thought strikes fear into the hearts of technophobe and RIM addict alike. But believe me, when the shock of what life would be like with 300 + emails stacked up like planes running low on fuel waiting to land at Hartsfield began to subside, I felt that curious relief akin to anesthesia taking over before surgery.

The first day was fine, but that was purely due to jet lag. Day 2 was uncomfortable, but the third day took all my will power. By day four my mantra was, 'Anyone who really needs me has my cell number.' Parenthetically, I must not have been needed as I only took 3 calls from the States.

Days 5 through 9 were pure bliss. I even took a day out to see the sights and relax, which I typically consider burdensome activities. Day 10 was no fun; on the plane back I had too much time to fear the worst, but by the time I landed I had already decided to add one more day to my 'vacation.'

The physical benefits were calming and it made me realize how many of my 'aging' issues were really just the repayment of stress. I won't write about these as they truly are TMI. In all honesty, I was as relaxed as if I had taken four days off.

And for the big surprise, no one expressed anger or disappointment at my slow response time and anyone with an urgent request did what they always do: sent multiple emails. I view this email holiday as a warm-up to the big event, a much hoped for real vacation; this time no work at all!


Grant Henninger - 5/17/2005 4:25:50 PM
Funny, I read the headline of this in my news reader and immediately had to go check my email, I hadn't done so all morning.
Stephen - 5/17/2005 1:50:44 PM
In my last job, I had a RIM pager and was connected to my job 24x7. I didn't get a phenomenal number of emails but when I got them, I usually responded within minutes. I had set the expectation of others that they could count on me whenever they needed me. In the end I realized, this wasn't what I wanted so how do you get rid of those expectations and check your baggage at the door when 5:00pm comes? Well, I took the easy way out. I got a new job. The great thing is, when you get a new job, you can set expectations. If you set them at a reasonable sustainable level, then you won't have to be uber available and always connected. My work schedule is far more manageable now and my performance evaluations are actually better. The reason is, by taking on fewer things, you can make sure you can do a better job of them. Also you know you have the capacity to do more if you had to. I loved checking my baggage at the door as I left my last job. People suggested that they would never be able to manage without me but I knew that was no where near the case.
Coley - 5/17/2005 12:51:47 PM
Kudos to your friend for his self-control and ability to actually relax by not using his email. I would D-I-E without access to mine. I get stressed every day when I hit the gym and am away from communication for two hours! More than worry about others' anger and disappointment in me, I think my problem is that I live in a delusional fantasy world in which the world will stop spinning if people cannot reach me 24/7.

I could never stop checking my email for an extended period of time--I don't want to burst my own bubble and realize that I'm really not all that important and everyone will function just fine without my long-winded email responses.


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