What It Was Like to Turn Off Work Email for Two Weeks

When you shut work out of your mind, you have time to stop and smell the roses. Or in my case, stare at the Waimea Canyon.

When you shut work out of your mind, you have time to stop and smell the roses. Or in my case, stare at the Waimea Canyon.

The savviest of Be Well Philly readers may have noticed I was a bit quiet here on the blog these past two weeks. Sure, we kept cranking out great content—because that’s what we do, duh—but if you looked closely at the bylines, you might have noticed that my name was pretty much absent for two weeks straight. Why? Because I was basking up the sun and sand in Hawaii, that’s why.

Not to brag or anything, but it was a pretty sick vacation. If you’ve never been there, I hope Hawaii is in your bucket list. My husband, Chris, and I visited two islands during our two-week stay: Oahu and Kauai. Both offered totally different experiences—Oahu is more built up and developed, so you get more of a hustle and bustle, while Kauai, nicknamed the Garden Isle, is wild, green and gorgeous—but we had a blast exploring all the amazing beaches and hiking trails we could possibly squeeze into daylight hours.

This was by far the longest vacation I’ve taken from the blog and you lovely readers in over three years. I was lucky to have the fabulously amazing, totally reliable Adjua Fisher to fill in for me, of course, but when you’re passionate about your job, like I am, it can still be a tad unnerving to up and leave for any stretch of time.

On most of my previous vacations, I remained in contact with folks back in the office, answering pressing emails and occasional phone calls. It never amounted to a huge distraction, at least time-wise—a minute here, three there—but it certainly didn’t help my brain unplug from my work life. In fact, putting out fires from afar can sometimes be more stressful than just dealing with them when you get back. Away from the office, you have time to obsess and stew over things that aren’t going quite right, without being physically available to deal with them. Time differences only exacerbate matters.

A friend of mine once checked her work email while on vacation in San Francisco. “Something happened that I couldn’t fix,” she told me, “and I was so stressed out about it the rest of the day that the entire day was ruined.”

It was with this story in mind—and some subtle pre-vacation prodding from Chris—that I decided, this time, I would resist the urge to check my work email. For two weeks, I would disconnect. Be unavailable. Make myself intentionally unreachable. I would give my brain a clean break from the stressors awaiting me back at my desk.

So on the Friday before vacation, as soon as I left the office, I slid the little on-off button on my iPhone mail account to “Off,” and, POOF, all record of Work Emily disappeared from my phone. It was weird at first, waking up in the morning with only sale alerts from Gap and Banana Republic waiting for me in my personal email account. Typically I’d have 20 or so new work-related emails, all of which I would rifle through while still in bed, eyes and brain blurry from sleep. But this time, no press releases, no pitches, no frantic messages telling me my blog is down and WHAT WILL WE DO OH MY GOSH. In other words, nothing important.

It took a few days to adjust to the slower mail cycle. I got an email out of the blue from a friend that I actually answered as soon I received it. Normally, those go into the Not Urgent file in my brain, which means more often than not they go unanswered. (Yes, I am a jerk to my friends when Work Emily is in control.)

But once I knew not to expect pressing emails, I was free to—wait for it—actually enjoy my vacation. I hiked. I snorkeled. I slept. I read (four books!!). I soaked up every minute of my time away from the office as an opportunity to just veg out. To step away from my daily responsibilities and actually connect, 100 percent, with the people and things around me.

You guys. It was glorious.

Here’s another thing that happened: Near the end of my two weeks away, I actually started to look forward to going home and getting back to my routine. I was totally fine with the fact that my vacation was going to end and I was going to have to snap back to reality. It helps that I like my job, of course, but I think it had more to do with the fact that I got to step away from it, uninterrupted, for a solid chunk of time. I didn’t have to think about our upcoming events, all the posts on my to-do list, the new gym I need to check out, the coffee I’ve been meaning to schedule with that trainer. So when it came time to get back into it, I was refreshed and ready to tackle the world.

Still. There was a moment of trepidation on Monday morning, my first day back, as my computer was firing up. How many emails will I have to sort through? I thought to myself, a mild panic settling in my chest. I hovered my mouse over the Mail icon, exhaled deeply and clicked …

924 emails stared back at me.

For a second I was annoyed at myself for not staying on top of them while I was gone. But as I began to sort the pile, I realized that most of the emails were immediately deleteable, anyway—either the event they were pitching had already passed, or the subject didn’t really apply to me anyway, or Adjua (Bless you, Adjua!!) had already dealt with them—leaving only a handful that I needed to answer. I’m chipping away at the bunch (sorry if you’re still awaiting an email from me. I haven’t forgotten!), but I realize now that this no-email experiment was entirely worth the effort of self restraint.

Everybody’s brain deserves a break. Even yours. So turn off your work email from time to time (heck, you could even try it this weekend) and see what it’s like to engage with the world without having your nose buried in your phone. You’ll probably gain a whole new perspective on things. Trust me.

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