Grad school has been particularly stressful and hectic the past few months, so I’m super excited to be taking a 10 day vacation starting tomorrow. I’ll be flying to Portland, then to SF, then to Las Vegas, and then back home to Boston!

As I’ve been planning for my vacation, I’ve been thinking about what it means to take a “real” vacation. What do I need to do for myself to properly de-stress?

One thing I’ve noticed about myself is that checking email on vacation almost always winds up stressing me out. One frustrating email request or grade report, and I can get bent out of shape for the rest of the day when I’m supposed to be relaxing and enjoying myself.

I want this vacation to be different.

In an effort to allow myself to truly decompress, I’ve decided to pledge to check my email as infrequently as possible. And when I do check it, I’ll only check it for specific things like coordinating logistics with friends. I’m also leaving my laptop at home so I don’t get tempted to do any work or check my email.

As I’ve gotten closer to actually taking the vacation, I’ve been feeling nervous about actually committing to not checking my email. So I’ve been planning out how to make this pledge a reality.

Inspired by danah boyd’s article on How To Take An Email Sabbatical and this clever autoresponder message, here’s what I’ve done:

Action Items and Collaborators:

  • Made a clear list of everything I’m working on and identified concrete milestones to complete before vacation.
  • Completed those milestones as best as I could and sent a status update to anyone else involved.
  • Told anyone I’m working on something with that I would be away on vacation starting a few weeks ago and that if they need anything from me, they should ask me before I leave.
  • Roughly planned out what I want to do the week I get back and set a few reminders for myself, so I don’t feel totally swamped and stressed right after vacation.

Travel Logistics:

  • Told anyone I think might need to contact me (such as people I’m meeting up with while traveling), that they should include on an email thread, and I’ll respond to their messages.
  • Signed up for auto check-in for my flights and downloaded the United app to my phone so I have all my travel information accessible. 
  • Made a note in Evernote with all relevant addresses and confirmation numbers, so I don’t need to look them up in email and be tempted to break the pledge.

In Gmail:

  • Created a filter than applies the label “ruinyourvacation” to all incoming email and skips the inbox.
  • Created a filter that applies the label “vacation” to any email sent to
  • Whitelisted a few specific email addresses.
  • Enabled my autoresponder with a message that explains I’m on vacation, and to re-send the email to me only if it’s urgent, or there’s a good reason I need to see it (e.g. group logistics threads).
  • Pre-applied the “vacation” label to existing logistics threads, in case I need to refer to them or forgot to put something on my Evernote note.
  • Deleted the Gmail application from my phone.

Despite all this effort, I’ve still checked my email at least three times while writing this post. I think this will be a real challenge, but I’m interested to see where it goes. I’ll report back when I get home.