Use This 'Out Of Office' Auto-Reply If You Actually Want To Be Left Alone While On Vacation

So simple, yet so effective.

When email was new, hearing the AOL voice chime "You've got mail!" made us light up like a small child who'd received a birthday card from Grandma in the mail. Just as physical letters filled us with joy when we were kids, email was a relative novelty that ignited excitement, not dread. But now, just as we hate sifting through the bills that've come to clog our mailboxes, we've also come to despise email, as every notification represents an inconvenience — another individual demanding our time and attention in a world that's "always on" thanks to modern technology.

Unfortunately, this "always accessible" mentality doesn't take a vacation — even when you do. Peers and colleagues continue to send emails, leaving the average worker with an enormously daunting task upon their return. Employees are forced to dig their way out from under these mounting messages, increasing stress levels and thereby negating the benefits of said vacation in no time flat. 

However, one professor's out of office auto-reply might just be the solution we've been looking for all along. According to writer Marina Koren, when contacting a professor about an interview for her article, she received this OOO:

"I am out of the office and expect to have only infrequent email access. Thank you for your message. Email received between [these dates] will be deleted from this server eight hours from now. Please send your message again after [this date]."


"My bewilderment quickly mutated into offense," she writes for The Atlantic. "This out-of-office message seemed to flout all the rules of email that we, as an internet-based society, had imposed on ourselves and others — and it was doing so unabashedly! Of course we're allowed to not check email while we're on vacation. That makes perfect sense. But to not check what arrived when you were gone, to not spend hours "digging out" upon return? To avoid it altogether? To extricate oneself, a cog in the email machine, while the rest of us remain? How dare you?"

"A minute later, it hit me," she adds. "My reaction doesn't seem ... healthy."

As Koren notes, Emily Gould wrote about a similar OOO reply in The New York Times in 2015, in which Daniel Mallory Ortberg, the writer, responded: "I am currently on vacation and not accepting any emails about anything. I'm not planning on reading any old emails when I get back, either, because that feels antithetical to the vacation experience." The subject line simply read "Nope." 

Despite the brilliant strategy behind these OOO auto-replies, Koren was taken aback by the straightforward messaging and the blatant honesty because, in today's business environment, it's rare to find someone who's unapologetic about their time away from the office. We tend to feel guilty for taking advantage of our vacation days because we don't want to appear unmotivated, or leave anyone or anything in limbo, but we are entitled to this time to regroup and we need to realign our perspectives in order to make relaxation a priority, not a perk.

Yet, while these OOO auto-replies might trigger your FOMO, research conducted by Duke University, two-thirds of the emails we receive each day are totally useless and, of those that are relevant, only 10 percent need to be answered within five minutes of receiving them. Also, the average businessperson spends about 2.5 hours per day reading and responding to email, essentially meaning that everyone wastes nearly two hours each day wading through the pointless deluge that floods our inboxes.

"Now, let's suppose that your vacation is two weeks long," Geoffrey James writes for Inc. "A 'ping me later' response to emails means that you're saving 2.5 hours a day for 14 days, which comes out to 35 hours--almost an entire workweek."

"In other words, you not only get two weeks of hassle-free and worry-free vacation but you also earn yourself an extra week that you can spend doing something more interesting than electronic paperwork," he adds.

After all, what's the point of unplugging for two weeks if you're going to be strapped to your screens for an extended period of time once you return? But, as Alexandra Samuel writes for Harvard Business Review, the biggest obstacle to disconnecting isn't the technology itself: it's your level of commitment or compulsion when it comes to work. 

"If you work 80 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, you may find it pretty hard to get your head out of the office – and even harder to break the Pavlovian association between hearing the ping of an incoming email and immediately shifting into work brain," she writes. "That association is exactly why it's so useful to develop strategies that put your devices in vacation mode. You probably don't leave Oreos in the cupboard when you're dieting; for the same reason, it's best to put work out of arm's reach when you're on vacation."

You've earned your vacation, plain and simple. Thus, when you decide to get away, get away from everything that's normally has you splitting yourself in two every other day of the year. And, with one of these OOO auto-replies in place, you'll be able to return to work with a clear mind and clear inbox, ready to start fresh with renewed purpose.

Cover image via  soft_light / Shutterstock

(H/T: Inc.)

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