A Vacation Challenge to Ad People: Unwire!

Ah, summer! The official vacation season.

Recently, an advertising colleague called to my attention an article about the slow movement, which encourages people to stop being in such a hurry to accomplish more in the same amount of time. That kind of lifestyle, they say, can kill you and people need to practice “random acts of slowness: turning off the BlackBerry, cooking unhurried meals with friends, cultivating a garden and taking long walks..”

When I discussed this concept with other ad folks, I found that few could actually conceive of unwiring from their smartphones, cell phones, and e-mail — even while on vacation! I’m more disappointed than shocked by this response. According to Dictionary.com, a “vacation” is “a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel” (my emphasis). Why don’t wired addicts just call the alternative “workation”?

Though not a member of any slow movement organization (yes, such exist), I couldn’t agree more with the notion. Life is just too short for us to be checking e-mail while atop the Eiffel Tower or multitasking via iPhones from the deck of a cruise ship. The founder of slow movement organization TimeBanks, Edgar Cahn, is a former multitasking mega-motivated attorney. He only realized the danger of a hurried lifestyle after suffering a massive heart attack that almost claimed his life. We only have to look at Tim Russert for yet an example that didn’t have such a happy ending.

My attitude about vacation time is that it’s perhaps my one and only sanctuary. The whole reason I take vacation is to recharge my batteries. When I go away, I bring no devices with me: no laptop, no cell phone, and certainly no BlackBerry (which I still resist owning). My general rule of thumb is that for every one week of vacation I take, I make one call to the office. My senior managers have my trip itinerary and contact numbers so they reach me if they need to. I’ve never been disturbed in over 10 years in this business.

Now, I’m sure plenty of ad people reading this article will say, “Hollis, you’re living in some kind of utopia or your business must not be that big. There’s no way I’m going a whole week without checking my e-mail or voicemail.” In fact, when I informally polled my peers, most said just that: “Checking e-mail is so easy to do nowadays, why not?” and “If I don’t check it while I’m away, I can’t relax because I’m so stressed about all the work building up and waiting for me.”

I don’t mean to sound cavalier, but so what? Guess what, folks. There will always be work piled up and more work tomorrow, vacation or no. The fact is, we live in a time when we will never get all our work done. It’s a matter of prioritizing and, to some degree, saying, “Things will find a way of working themselves out.” Even if you check your e-mail and call the office every day, problems still have a way of cropping up. If there are minor crises, shame on you if no one’s got your back so that you can enjoy some peace and quiet.

It all depends on how much work-life balance means to you. To me, the repercussions of manifesting my golden rule of vacations not only impacts my life but also sends a message to everyone who works for me, and I feel that’s one of the most important roles I play as my company’s leader.

That being said, if you find you crave true vacation respite but don’t know how to begin to get it try this:

Hollis’s Top Six Suggestions to Enjoy an Unwired Vacation

  • Trust and empower people around you to solve problems.

  • Plan for time off. For every one week off, start notifying people two weeks in advance of your intended absence. Let them know that you’ll be unwired and who to contact while you’re away.
  • Specifically ask for e-mail reduction (staff and clients). Have only essential e-mail sent to you.
  • Recruit an e-mail “scanner and de-junker” — an underling who can help flag e-mail and delete obvious spam.
  • Head to a destination where connectivity is not even an option (sacre bleu!).
  • Don’t bring any wireless devices with you — for any reason.

Bon voyage…and don’t e-mail me!

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