Taking Your Smart Phone on Vacation

by Affinity Consulting Group on June 19, 2018

Recently, I was reading an article in the Washington Post entitled America is obsessed with the virtue of work. What about the virtue of rest?. In her article, Elizabeth Bruenig argues that American culture celebrates the dignity of work to such an extent that the benefits of and need for rest are denigrated or ignored. Ms. Bruenig doesn’t touch on this in her piece, but an often-heard suggestion is to “unplug” from digital devices – be it on the weekend or vacation. I don’t know if that’s good advice. I can tell you that a complete “disconnection” doesn’t work for me. If it doesn’t work for you either, you’re not alone.

As we approach vacation season, I want to share with you the strategies I use to strike a balance between escaping to recharge and not returning to work relaxed, only to find a flaming mess to clean up. I’m going to separate my approach into techniques and their enabling technologies.

Do Not Disturb and VIP
First, I know some coworkers send emails for everything under the sun, whether they know you’re on vacation or not, and others are only going to email you on vacation when things are dire. When I’m away from the office, I utilize my iPhone and iPad’s “Do Not Disturb” and “VIP” features to manage who has permission to alert me and when they can do so. These features exist on both iPhones and Android phones.

For iPhone, under Settings > Do Not Disturb, you can enable the Do Not Disturb feature for a given time, or manually whenever you want. Android offers the same options. When enabled, this feature will silence the phone; no vibration, alerts, or even phone calls. I use this feature when on vacation and want to be “fully present” for an activity with family or friends. Do Not Disturb also allows phone calls from selected people to “punch through” to ring you; excellent if you always want the babysitter to be able to reach you.

The VIP feature is similar in that you’re limiting who can alert you on vacation. As I mentioned above, there are certain coworkers who I want my iPhone to alert me whenever they send an email. From Mail on the iPhone, click on a message from the prospective VIP, click on that person’s “From” name or email, scroll down to the bottom of the contact card, and select “Add to VIP”. Now, whenever that person emails you, your phone will alert you. For Android, click the star next to the person’s name. Using VIP prevents you from constantly checking email to see if a particular person has written; and prevents you from getting “sucked in to the email vortex”. On iPhone, you can can control the types of alerts a VIP message generates and adjust preferences under Settings > Mail > VIP.

Ubiquitous Capture
One of the effects that vacation or downtime from work has on me is that, paradoxically, my mind starts recalling things I need to do that the daily hustle and bustle of work suppressed. The best way to stop fretting over those blooming recollections is to get them out of my head and into someplace I can deal with them at the appropriate time. Here’s how I handle those ideas:

  1. Drafts 5 is a new version of the popular text utility from Agile Tortoise. It has more useful features than I can cover in this article. But, the one relevant today is its widget capability. If you add the Drafts widget to your iPhone’s lock screen, then you wake your iPhone’s screen, slide right, and enter either a typed or dictated message without diving into your iPhone’s home screen and its myriad of distracting app options. Once you’ve completed typing or dictating your message, while still in Drafts, you can add that text to the Reminders app, send it as a text or email, and do a host of other functions with it. You can then close the iPhone and return to your vacation. This beats wading into several apps and getting lost in the milieu of whatever is happening in “phone world”. Drafts also has an Apple Watch app so you can dictate that note and deal with it later without ever touching your phone. Android also has a “widget” concept and I expect a Drafts analogue exists for the platform.
  2. If you have a smartphone, then you have a smart assistant – either Siri or Google. Both are capable of taking down reminders, texting people, or creating notes without forcing you to dive full force into your phone. If all you need is to get the idea from your mind to something permanent, try your smart assistant. If your vacation ends on May 29th, just say, “Hey Siri, remind me when I get to work on May 29th to schedule the Smith project meeting.” Assuming your personal contact card has a work address, Siri will set a GPS-based reminder that alerts you of the todo when you arrive at work on May 29th.

Know Yourself
Fundamentally, I don’t believe that a restful and relaxing vacation means abandoning technology or completely disconnecting from the workplace. If it does for you, marvelous, go forth and be happy. For me though, I like to know if something urgently needs my attention, and allow trusted coworkers to reach me. And, when I get peace and quiet, and ideas come to me, it’s easier to capture them for later reflection than hope I remember them at vacation’s end. If that’s you too, don’t feel like you’re “cheating vacation” by occasionally thinking of work. It’s your vacation – do what makes you happy.

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