danah boyd explains email sabbaticals

Many years ago, danah boyd taught me her fool-proof method for an email-free holiday -- a procedure for switching off your email while on vacation, without offending your co-workers, friends, and correspondents. I've used danah's method ever since, and I swear by it: being able to go on holiday from my email and knowing that I won't be clobbered by a mountain of backlog when I return is literally life-changing. The amount of wear-and-tear I've saved in cortisol-damage from email-stress has probably added ten years to my life. danah's off on another email sabbatical and she's posted a detailed description of her procedure and logic.
I decided to start taking email sabbaticals as a systematic and respectful way of publicly communicating my boundaries. Six months before vacation, I let close collaborators and colleagues know that I intend to be wholly offline during a set of collectively known dates. A month before I leave, I write out to everyone that I work with to make sure that we all know what I need to accomplish before I leave and make sure that we have a check list to get it all done. I also publicly blog that I will be departing, letting everyone else know that they should get in touch if they're going to need something from me. A week before, I message out again warning people. In this way, I systematically make sure that I take care of others' needs before I depart. Communication is key to an email sabbatical. Disappearing without properly making certain that everyone has what they need is irresponsible and disrespectful.

When I am on vacation, I am confident that I have taken care of my responsibilities before I left. I have contingency plans set up for anything I can predict might happen while I'm away. I make sure that my brother, mother, sysadmin, and housesitters all know how to reach me in case of an emergency. But most importantly, I know that my email spool is not filling up with a big To Do list that will haunt me when I'm gone. Do I miss things while I'm on vacation? Most certainly. Inevitably, I will receive numerous emails from journalists covering year-end stories about teens, people wanting me to review journal articles, students wanting help with their term papers, and perhaps an invitation or two. I do feel guilty not personally responding to these people to say that I'm unavailable but that's precisely the point. I need to let go in order to truly take a break and refresh. Are there going to be people pissed off at me because I'm on vacation? Sure. But I'm also used to getting pissed off emails everyday from all sorts of people yelling at me for my attempt to explain teen life. Part of me feels a guilty pleasure knowing that I will never see 5 weeks worth of angry emails.

I AM OFFLINE! On Email Sabbatical from December 9 - January 12