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.

About

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.

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