How to Prepare for a Vacation in the Digital Age

This article isn’t about the planning or logistics that go into taking a good vacation (less is always more when it comes to that anyway). It’s about how I’m setting up my devices and the expectations people have for me to simultaneously not detract from my vacation and enhance it (which are related but separate concepts). Your mileage may vary.

First, let’s get clear about what a vacation, or specifically this vacation, is for. It’s two weeks long with half of that time spent in (hopefully) warm and sunny Florida and half spent in decidedly less warm (but probably equally sunny) Michigan. The Florida segment will primarily be spent without obligations (familial or otherwise) while the Michigan segment will consist of staying at my parents’ house and being surrounded by my large immediate and intermediate family.

Regardless of the geographic characteristics of the vacation, the goals across the two weeks are largely the same:

  • Unplug my brain from work (both the day-to-day logistics and details of managing large scale organizational change efforts and the deliberate pondering of organizational design theory*)

  • Reboot my attentional sensitivity by abstaining from digital candy (my main vices are Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and the ever so occasional glimpse at Facebook)

  • Reset my bedrock habits (full sleep with a relatively early waking time, daily meditation, daily exercise, and daily writing)

  • Indulge my curiosity through analog exploration instead of Wikipedia rabbit holes

  • Spend quality relationship building time with my very long term but also very long distance girlfriend (and who will be accompanying me on the first segment of this vacation)

With those basic goals in mind I had a clearer sense of what I need my devices to do to both get out of my way and also enhance what I want to do. Here’s what I did:

  • Moved all work specific apps (Fantastical, Safari, Airmail, Slack — for now) into a folder, turned off their notification privileges, and banished that folder to the back page

  • Deliberately decided which apps to leave on my front page. The ones who made the cut are Kindle, iBooks, Overcast, Instapaper, Music, Camera, Byword, and 2Do. A few words of explanation…

  • Obviously, I aim to spend much of this vacation with my nose (or ears) buried in a book. I have many, many hours left in the audiobook version of Ron Chernow’s George Washington biography and have yet to choose a book to actually read. I’m leaning toward Wise Man’s Fear (book one was insanely good) or some other fiction

  • I have a bit of an Instapaper backlog. Even though most of those articles are ostensibly work related I’m fortunate to find those topics intrinsically interesting. Once I clear that backlog I’ll probably move it off the front page

  • I also have a very small podcast backlog. I think I’ll give it the Instapaper treatment — clear the backlog, pause refilling it until after vacation, and then move it off the front page

  • Camera makes the cut because I want to take pictures over the next two weeks. I’m terrible at remembering to do this but am nearly always glad when I do

  • 2Do (my task management app) may seem like a weird app to include on the front page given my goals related to unplugging from the work. However, I need it close at hand because I will be using it copiously to dump the various thoughts that come to mind related to work. It’s the starting point of my GTD system and I’m a firm believer in thinking ideas once and then saving them somewhere I know I can trust to deal with them later

  • My iPad is setup the same way but with the addition of Byword (which is where I’m writing this right now as I fly to Florida). Writing is something that’s incredibly important to me and I’m hoping to spend a significant amount of time over the next two weeks just writing about whatever seems urgent and/or interesting when it’s time to sit down and type. This is my favorite iOS app for doing that. Some entries may find there way to Medium but chances are most will end up in Day One (my long running digital journal)

Outside of the actual app arrangement itself, I’ve also gone in and silenced nearly every notification that is even somewhat likely to happen over the next two weeks that isn’t absolutely critical (e.g. email is silenced but my banking app can still tell me if someone is trying to use my credit card to pay for illicit pet monkeys in Nova Scotia).

I dropped a note in my Twitter profile about being away for the next two weeks, but that’s probably more in service of my own vanity than the unlikely situation that anyone would notice or care about my absence. Turned off notifications, too. The burst of dopamine every time someone likes a tweet feels nice, but I’ll be searching for more natural dopamine hits on this vacation (that sounds like I’m talking about drugs… more like sitting on a beach with my feet in the water or petting a dolphin on the head).

I don’t get many emails, but I’ve gone ahead and setup a simple vacation responder letting people know when I’ll return. People who really know me already have my phone number and are welcome to call or text in a true emergency.

Work-wise, I’ve cleared my plate everywhere I could, talked to my team about covering key meetings in my absence, and trust that nothing too bad can happen in two weeks (right?).

Now, it’s all about easing into the mental space of not needing to be “on.” It’s about resisting the muscle memory of flipping open Tweetbot or Slack and making sure I’m “on top of things.” It’s about soothing and calming a mind that is often moving faster than is useful or enjoyable.

So with that I’ll close my iPad, pop in my headphones, and listen to the soothing dulcet tones of a gentleman telling me about the life of the first American president. I’ll feel the urge to make a humorous quip on Twitter or see how many people recommended this article but instead I’ll just turn up the volume and remember that Washington didn’t help lead a revolution or cross the Delaware — and I won’t do whatever my equivalent is — without letting the inessential and inconsequential crowd out the necessary hard work of recharging physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

And last I checked there’s no app for that.

  • My notebook will be ready to record any insights that I hope bubble through my subconscious and make it the surface of my awareness. You better believe I’ll be capturing those. Those mind nuggets are gold!