After Hours

10 ways to keep IT emergencies from derailing your vacation

Vacations are sacred. They're for decompressing, relaxing, and having fun -- not for putting out fires back at the office. Don't let your work interfere with your downtime.

One of my biggest passions in life has always been exotic travel. But traveling to faraway places for weeks at a time does not always mesh well with working in IT. Over the years, I have learned some tips that can help prevent an IT emergency (or even a non-work related non-emergency) from interrupting a vacation.

As you read these tips, keep in mind that everyone does things differently, so not every tip will be a viable option in every organization or for every IT position. Even so, these are all techniques that have worked for me at one time or another.

1: Pick the right time

When you plan a vacation, try to match your vacation schedule to the organization's project calendar. If your goal is to vacation in peace, try to avoid scheduling your vacation in the middle of a big project. In a lot of organizations, things really slow down around the holidays, so that might be a good time to get away.

2: Make sure your documentation is in order

An important IT task that is often neglected is documentation. Ideally, your network, procedures, and support contacts should be so well documented that if you were to be hit by a bus, your replacement would have no trouble picking up where you left off.

While good documentation is widely regarded as an IT best practice, it is also helpful when it comes time for a vacation. There is no reason for someone to call you with a question if the answer is clearly documented.

3: Don't check your email while on vacation

Don't make the mistake of checking your email while you are on vacation. If you respond to a message, it gives everyone the impression that you are available. One message leads to another and before you know it, you will have spent half your vacation tied to a computer.

4: Find a competent stand-in

You will need someone who can fill in for you while you are gone. Make sure that the person you pick is up to the job. Technical competency alone isn't enough. Your stand-in needs to be aware of what is currently going on in the organization so that they can answer any questions that come up while you are away.

Once you have chosen a stand-in, make sure everyone knows that all questions should be directed to that person -- not to you -- while you're away. Your stand-in should be the only person who can contact you, but only in the event of an emergency. Assuming that your stand-in has good technical skills, access to well written network documentation, and an awareness of everything that is going on in the company, there should be no reason for him or her to bother you while you are away.

5: Address any major issues before you leave

About a month before you go on vacation, talk to the powers that be and ask them what issues should ideally be addressed before your vacation. By taking care of any major outstanding issues early, there will be fewer reasons for anyone to call you while you are gone.

6: Get assignments done early -- and leave time for review

Whenever you are going to be away for a while, it's prudent to complete any projects or assignments before you go. However, if you wrap up a project or an assignment the night before you are supposed to be leaving, there's a good chance someone will have questions about it while you are gone.

Although it's not always possible, try to wrap up any projects at least a week before you leave. That way, there will be enough time for you to answer any questions before you go on vacation.

7: Be careful about giving out your contact information

If your goal is to avoid being disturbed while you are on vacation, be careful about what you put in your Out of Office message. If it says that you can be reached on your cell phone in the event of an emergency,n you can be sure that someone will call you. It is better to say that all inquiries should be directed toward whoever is filling in for you while you are gone.

8: Consider destinations that are conducive to privacy

Some destinations are more conducive to privacy than others. For example, I spent my last vacation in Antarctica. During that time, it was physically impossible to contact me. Antarctica is beyond the range of most of the communications satellites, and once I got past a certain point, there simply was no phone or Internet access.

On another occasion I spent my vacation in a non-English speaking country. Someone tried to call the hotel where I was staying, but the desk clerk who answered the phone didn't speak English. Oh darn.

9: Lay down the law with your friends

Sometimes, it isn't your co-workers you have to worry about, but rather, your friends. A few years ago, I was on a Panama Canal cruise with my wife and a few friends. One of my friends had brought his laptop. On the first afternoon of the cruise, he came up to me and said he wanted me to take a look at it because it just wasn't performing as well as it did when it was new.

I don't have a problem with helping a friend, but I go on vacation to relax, not to do more work. I had to tell my friend that I would look at his laptop when we got back home, but that I didn't want to have to so much as touch a computer while I was on vacation.

10: Don't tell others what you do for a living

Once you get to wherever you are going, try to avoid telling others what you do for a living. Last year, for example, I made the mistake of wearing a Microsoft shirt during a day of sightseeing in Rome. Someone else on the tour saw it and asked me what I do. I made the mistake of telling him -- and he spent the rest of the tour picking my brain about an IT project he had coming up.


Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.


I don't have this problem. I own a boat (50ft Beneatau).I don't own a satelite phone. Within a few hours of being on board, my cellphone stops working, no signal.


One vacation, with just me and my wife, we did a two week backpack trip to Italy. I told my boss the truth, we only had the first night and the last night reserved, everything in between we don't know where we would be staying. So, when we first got to Rome, we checked in, left our backpacks and went searching for a hotel for the next few nights. Then we went to Florence, then Venice, where we stayed an extra night to meet up with family friends, then Milan. By then we were sick of museums and there was some fashion event, so we left and spent a couple of nights in Monaco. Then we caught the train back to Rome and flew out the next day. The main horror was that in Rome, I had a signal, had to take out my SIM. I didn't need to call anyone, but if anyone called me, I would be "out of range." But we were prepared for the condition that we couldn't be reached, by having someone shadow me for a week prior. So the next time, when my wife and I went backpacking in Thailand. On that one we didn't even have the first nor the last night reserved. Again, for the week prior, someone shadowed me. We even backpacked a vacation to Indonesia with our 3 year old daughter. Remember that backpacking doesn't mean you're up in the mountains hiking around, it just means the form of your luggage. So, I carried my daughter's stuff in my pack so that she didn't need to carry anything. We also take day packs with us. After a couple of those, I realized that "backpacking" was a great way to vacation and to minimize or prevent contact. But since I set the backpacking scenario three times, anytime I said backpacking, my calls went to zero. I did have my phone and it was working, and so did my laptop (on later trips), but you've got the resist the urge to reply. I just called my shadow to see if he or she was ok, a couple of times during my vacation, but since backpacking number two (Thailand), I have had undisturbed vacations.


Competent team members and well documented process, procedures and contacts are essential!. The Blackberry is addictive. You hear that notification that there is a message and you have to look. At a minimun, turn the audible notifications off.


Buy a throw-away cell phone if you must, and give the number only to people vacationing with you. Tell people in the office that you'll be in a quiet place that has no cell service, so don't call and you won't be able to check your email. Then set your regular voicemail and email to auto-reply "I am away and will be unable to answer your call/email until I return on mm/dd" Simplerulesandtools said "If you weren't of value, you wouldn't get a paycheck" and she's correct; but if the company is in complete turmoil and crisis just because you took your vacation for a few days, you need a BIG raise. The CEO can go on vacation and the company doesn't shrivel up; are you really more important than that? If you really are that important, what's going to happen to the company when you have a heart attack and end up in the hospital for a month? Because if you can't take a few days off to reduce your stress level, that's what's going to happen next.


Get others used to you being away. Take a sebatical afternoon as a trial run. Then debrief how things went with the team when you come back. Do that every once in a while and people will figure out how to get along without you. The hardest part is accepting that the world will keep turning while you're away. Does that mean you're not important? No, it means you haven't become a gatekeeper or bottleneck. If you weren't of value, you wouldn't get a paycheck. The ability to be completely unreachable for a week should be seen as evidence of stellar self-management and good stewardship. Vickie Gray Advisor to IT Managers and Their Teams


Made that mistake once before going for a beach week. The place where I would be staying starting the next day got a call later that night. But the kickers - I was staying at my in-law's house, who graciously took the call - and it was for a hardware problem, and as a DBA shouldn't have gotten the call in the first place. Never again...


yeah I pretty much do the same, it helps clear the mind and refresh the soul!!! :)

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