Wisdom//

This Is the Only Out-Of-Office Auto-Reply You Will Ever Need

The secret to a good out-of-office auto-reply is very simple. Tell people you’re going to delete their emails. It’s just that easy.

Courtesy of Valery Sidelnykov / Shutterstock
Courtesy of Valery Sidelnykov / Shutterstock

Out of Office Message: I’ll be away through Monday, July 9th and I will not be checking this email address. When I return I will probably batch delete emails received during this time. If you have a news emergency please contact [email protected] If there is a matter you would like me to see, please re-send it after July 10th. Thanks

That is a version of an out of office email I used through many vacations when I was Executive Producer of Morning Edition and then Executive Editor of NPR News.

Deleting all your emails? That’s a bit extreme, you might be telling yourself.

In fact, it was liberating for me and everyone I dealt with. There was a caveat. A few people at work knew how to connect with me for emergencies that they deemed needed my attention, and who I trusted to make that determination. The rest had to wait.

Friends, it’s a system that works.

Americans are notorious for not taking their full vacation allotment or for working during vacation for a variety of reasons, including fear of losing their jobs. And the great liberator, technology, has made us even worse at taking a well-earned break.

I used to be one of those people. I’d be somewhere in the woods and get twitchy if I had been out of signal range for a few hours. Then I’d be that crazy person trying to find a signal when outside the public library or plan an afternoon in the village coffee shop with wi-fi just in case I was missing something at work.

I used to try and zero out my inbox before leaving, just to be crushed by the thousands and thousands of emails that greeted me on my return.

Did I really need to sift through all of those emails? What had I missed?

Well, there were things that seemed like crises at the time that got sorted out within 24 hours; A birthday celebration for someone in the cafeteria; free food leftover after a meeting in the conference room; an incredible number of lame PR pitches; meetings that I was invited to that I really didn’t need to be at; an absurd number of emails I was cc’d on that I really didn’t need to be (abuse of the cc line can be the topic of another piece); requests to borrow umbrellas during a sudden storm. You get the picture. Our email is full of stuff that is immediate but not necessarily important.

So my new out of office email, clearly stating every message would be deleted, was the only way to restore some sanity. I replied to every person who wrote back to me after my return.

In return, I could have a great vacation where I could devote myself to the people around me, not the people in cyberspace or the ones back at the office.

So here are my rules for email hygiene:

  • Always leave an out of office message if you are on vacation or locked in an all-day meeting and can’t easily access email. It makes the sender feel better that they are not necessarily being ignored.
  • Make sure your workplace understands that you will be taking your vacation seriously.
  • Do not use your work email address for things other than work. Friends should email you on your personal email address; the same goes for all social plans. Keep your lives separate.
  • If you get a phone through work, don’t use it for your personal email or phone number, even though you can. Yes, you feel like a dork carrying around two phones, but the work phone belongs to your employer and everything on it is accessible to the information technology team. When you leave and want your information back, it gets messy. Case law is not definitive on your rights with regard to that work phone.
  • If you do have your personal and work emails on one device, delete the work email account — and Slack, Gchat, and any other messaging platforms — from your phone for the duration of your vacation.  You’ve left an out of office message, people will get it.

Good luck with your new email hygiene regimen. I’m out of office for the next 10 days.

Originally published on The Ladders.

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