Don't Let E-Mail Wreck Your Vacation

Does your summer vacation checklist include sifting through hundreds of e-mails the day before you return to the office? Will your BlackBerry be as essential as your swimsuit? Do you fear your "staycation" will turn into writing e-mails each day?

Artwork: Chip Taylor
It's hard to cut the e-mail dependency when we take a vacation. Half of the workforce checks business e-mail on weekends and 34 percent while on vacation. Work overload-before, during and after vacation-can deter many from even taking their allotted days off. In fact, 56 percent of Americans fail to take all their vacation days.

While the prospect of going "e-mail cold-turkey" during vacation is daunting, what if you detached from e-mail while working?

More than a year ago, I did just that at my job as an IBM consultant. Receiving an average of 30 to 40 e-mails a day meant spending a couple hours reading and crafting responses. Instead of a means to accomplish my priorities, my inbox had become a "to-do" list for others.

So I made the leap to give up business e-mail, shifting the bulk of my communication to social media platforms like Twitter, blogs and wikis. Sound hard? Not really.

There were challenges. I report to a manager in the U.S. but live and work on the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Most people thought I'd give in after a couple of months or be fired. But quite the opposite has happened.

Social Software Tools = Better Collaboration

Now my daily e-mails are down to five or so a day-taking about 15 minutes. This has freed me to tap social software tools to create richer collaboration with colleagues.

I'm not alone in the move to embrace social networking in the workplace. Now more than ever, companies offer employees a range of social networking tools to work smarter and faster, and collaborate with colleagues who live a world apart.

Here are some lessons learned on how to take control of productivity outside of the inbox.

(See also: "20 Tech Habits to Improve Your Life.")

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