How to Set Your Out-Of-Office Message for the Holidays and Stick to It

How to set your holiday out-of-office message and forget it.  

It’s a holiday week, and hopefully that means you get to take some well deserved time off of work. But, what happens if you technically “have” the time off, yet you’re still working, checking email, or have those outstanding to-dos that are nagging you. 

At any given time in our daily working environment it’s good to have boundaries. Boundaries are a critical part of good career development. But, it becomes even more important during down periods to really check-out and give yourself some rejuvenation time, otherwise you might get stuck picking up extra work, while everyone else is happily sipping egg-nog by the fire.

Below are 5 tips for setting a great OOO message and sticking to your boundaries this holiday season. 

  1. Set an out-of-office email that tells people exactly what to expect while you’re away, how to get in touch with you for something urgent, and when they can expect to hear from you upon your return. For example, you may use a script like:  "Thanks so much for reaching out. I’m taking time off this week to rest and rejuvenate, and am wishing the same to you. During this time off, I will not be checking or responding to emails. Upon my return on x date, I will review outstanding emails and get back to all requests by the end of the week. If you need something urgent, during this time, please leave me a voicemail at xxx-xxx-xxxx with the issue, the timeline you need a response, and what you need from me. I hope you have a lovely holiday week, and I look forward to connecting again in the New Year!
  2. Consider disabling, locking, or deleting your email apps for the time that you’re not working. Our ingrained habits are strong when it’s comes to technology, so having an out-of-sight, out-of-mind practice in place might help combat our frisky fingers for going straight for the email button. Don’t worry, you can always add your apps back or disable your locks when you’re ready.
  3. Set an intention at the beginning of your time-off period. We all know that falling into old habits is very easy. So BEFORE that happens, understanding what’s likely to pull us off track and setting an intention of what we’ll do instead, can be really useful. For example, “every time I pick up my phone to check my email, I’ll click on Spotify and choose a song to listen to instead" or "I’ll place my phone in a room that I’m not in, and only check it once an hour to see if someone called.”  Whatever intention that works best for you is fine, just so long as you have one in place. 
  4. Give yourself some grace. We all set goals and slip up from time to time. If you set a goal to NOT check your email at all while you’re away, but you break your own rule 15 minutes into your vacation time. No worries. It doesn’t mean all is lost and you should just give up. Check your email in that moment, accept that you fell off track, review #3 to see if you need to modify your plan, and then start over. It will get easier over time, if you're committed to making the effort.
  5. Carve out some ramp-up time, when you head to to work. A common reason for not completely checking out of our email is the fear that we’ll come back to 100’s (1000’s?!) of emails! Then, trying to respond to all the emails, in addition to the work that piled up during our time off, can feel overwhelming. So instead, we decide to just “casually check our email” while away. The problem is that if you’re staying in your email, you’re not truly checking out from work and giving yourself the downtime that would mentally, emotionally, and physically do you some real good. Instead, consider setting aside an extra day or an extra couple hours each day, when you return just for planning and getting back in the rhythm to address and respond to emails, before jumping straight back into work. 

While I wish could say that it will be easy for everyone to set boundaries and just walk away from work during the holidays, both you and I know that’s not the case. 

So, be realistic with yourself, put a clear goal and plan in plan, and then give your best effort each day to really check out and enjoy this time. 

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