Short answer: I didn’t.
My Normal Routine
I’m an independent iOS developer who builds a couple apps, Moment and Focus. I’m a one-man show, so I answer all of the customer support myself through email. It helps me stay on the front lines and detect any common themes in support requests. I also feel a commitment to my customers to answer their emails, even if they’re using the free version of my apps.
I’m a stickler about my inbox. I respond to all my support emails twice each day, morning and afternoon, and get to inbox zero each time. If I don’t empty my inbox, I get anxious and habitually open my web browser and type gmail.com without thinking throughout the day.
How I Used to Manage My Inbox on Vacation
On all of my previous vacations, I would stop development work, but I’d still answer customer support emails once a day. First thing in the morning, I’d wake up before everyone else and spend an hour typing away and sipping coffee (okay fine, it was really a mimosa).
Recently, I went on a one-week beach vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. It’s a quiet and beautiful area, yet still perfectly connected to the internet. I wanted to do a little experiment on this vacation: I decided not to touch my inbox. I wanted to completely turn off work mode and enjoy the company of my family and friends. No more early morning Gmail sessions this time.
My laptop and phone stayed on the dresser in the bedroom. I didn’t use any fancy tool to disconnect ( not even Moment 🙂 ). I would go about my day on the beach or on the water while trying to pretend my screens weren’t charged and always connected.
Overall, it went well. I give myself a B+. I was a bit fidgety on the first few days. I did relapse once and open Mail on my phone. “What if I released a giant bug and need to fix it?” I told myself.
Turns out I did release a bug, and heard about it from lots of people, but it wasn’t a huge enough deal to interrupt my vacation.
Coming down off the vacation high on Monday morning was miserable. I had 1,246 emails waiting in my inbox (and that’s after SaneBox did its thing). Over 150 separate customer support emails to answer. Yikes.
It took two days of answering emails to catch up. Two painful days of crossing my eyes staring at my laptop and asking myself why I ever let these build up so much.
One thing surprised me, though. No one complained about taking seven days to answer them. Not a single customer mentioned it. I didn’t even put up a vacation message. I ghosted them and completely ignored my customer support responsibilities for a week.
It was liberating. Sure, the first days back were tough, but I feel refreshed and ready to start working again. I haven’t had that so-refreshed-I-could-climb-a-mountain feeling since I went independent. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I hadn’t taken a true vacation in over two years.
What I Learned
We could all probably benefit from some time away from our inbox.
Most people won’t mind if I take a couple days to answer their email. If I don’t have an hour of inbox sorting to do each day, that gives me more time and energy to focus on my products.
From now on, I’m going to inbox zero it three days a week. I’m giving myself two mini vacations every week, Tuesday and Thursday. My job is to build great software, not answer email. Perhaps sometimes inbox zero isn’t the right focus every single day.
Look there! What’s that I see in the distance…
It’s work life balance. And I’m slowly getting there.