The Secrets to Truly Being Out of Office

A to-do list for doing nothing.
Work employment job PTO paid time off tips vacation holiday out of office break productivity
Are you really out of office? Photo: Ezequiel Garrido, Unsplash 

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying work, if that’s your vibe. But when you’ve gotten your holiday dates approved, set that automated vacation email response, and put that palm tree emoji next to your name on Slack, you better really, actually, truly, be out of office. 


Not physically out of office but thinking about that meeting you’re missing; not casually checking in on those work threads and responding to “urgent” matters; not packing all your work devices with you and leaving notifications on; not promising to submit one thing or another in the middle of your holiday. 

A successful holiday, at least in my opinion, should almost give you the feeling of quitting your job, not just taking a break from it. I’m talking about being so out-of-office that you forget about your co-workers and they forget about you. A successful holiday is one in which the people at work expect nothing of you but pure, guiltless radio silence. 

I understand that this is difficult for some people, because it was once (fine, still is) difficult for me. Nowadays, when there’s internet almost everywhere and a mobile app for everything, and after years of remote work becoming the norm for many, it’s easy to get work done and  difficult to resist the temptation to do it. 

I’ve worked in the service industry, startups, and big corporations. I’ve also tried freelancing. I found it difficult to separate myself from work across all these jobs. Like many, I’ve been caught in traps of toxic productivity, career anxiety, and just not knowing what to do with the free time I so desperately chase.


How To Not Give a Fuck

But inspired by the popularity of mental health awareness, anti-work movements, and simply not giving a fuck (and over the course of many days off), I’ve learned a few ways to mean it when I say I’m on holiday. Think about it: If there are many ways to work, there must also be many ways to not. 

Start on a Wednesday and get back on a Friday

If you’re the kind of person who finds it difficult to get any work done on a Friday because it’s already the weekend in your head, you also know the agony of waiting an entire week to get out of the office.

Starting your holiday on Wednesday has at least two benefits. First, it means you only have to work two days of the week before heading out. And with the carrot of your vacation dangling so close, it’ll feel like nothing. The other perk of starting your leave in the middle of the week is that it saves you from the weekend crowds of wherever you decide to go (if you decide to go somewhere). Not only are you leaving your co-workers in your office, you’re leaving everyone else in theirs, too. 

On the other hand, getting back to work on a Friday means you won’t have to deal with the abrupt shock of working again for five whole days. You’ll get to ease yourself back into it, literally just one day at a time. This gives you just enough time to get up to speed on what you missed, but not enough time for people to reasonably expect you to get all of it done. 


Put your devices to work

Most devices let you set custom home screens and notification settings. That means you don’t even have to see the apps you use for work while you’re on holiday. 

One way to make the most of this is keeping all your work apps on one home screen page, then creating a Focus setting (which both iOS and Android have versions of) where that page doesn’t appear and those apps don’t get to send you notifications. Trust me, you won’t miss them. 

Zero out your to-do list before you leave

It’s pretty simple—if you don’t have anything to do, you really can’t do anything. This might mean putting in some extra hours before you take your time off, but that seems like a small price to pay for a real holiday.

Go somewhere you can’t work

A remote island with no cell reception, a mountain with no electricity, a silent retreat—there are, thank goodness, some places where it’s still virtually impossible to do computer work. Go there. 

Have a list of movies, albums, TV shows, or podcasts you want to get through

Going from days filled with calls that should have been emails and emails that should have been calls to days filled with nothing can be jarring. What the hell do you do? You might as well work, right? Wrong.

Have a list of movies and TV shows you want to watch and music and podcasts you want to listen to, just in case you have some time to kill during your holiday. This will help you through the habits (and pleasures) of being on your devices, without doing the work you’re not supposed to be doing. 


Remember: You are not your job 

Not doing your job for a few days does not mean you’re not being a responsible, valuable, “productive” member of society. You, dear friend, are not your job, and there are many other things you can do to make yourself and those around you feel good. Now, go do them. 

Bonus tip: Remind others to stop working 

We all have those co-workers who work and respond to people’s messages when they’re on holiday. I’m no expert on “company culture” but I think that creates an expectation for others to do the same—if someone else worked while they were on holiday, then you, too, should work while you’re on holiday.

The next time someone who’s not supposed to be working, uh, works, tell them to stop and enjoy their holiday. Hopefully, they’ll appreciate the reminder. If paid vacation leaves are in your contract, you’re supposed to take them

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