"I am out of the office and not checking email," the magazine editor's auto reply said abruptly. "I will return Tuesday, March 24. Anything sent during this time will not be read."
Having spent a hunk of a week digging out from an email blizzard that had accumulated while I was gone for two weeks, I stand and applaud this editor's declaration of independence from emails sent while he's on vacation.
If you want to reach me so damn bad, he is saying, you'll write me again when I'm back.
(And I do. And I will! In fact, I'll wait until a little later in the week, when I figure he'll be hitting his stride.)
Every job has its own proper sense of urgency, and the requirement for responsiveness varies. Editors can afford to acknowledge correspondents on their own time; salespeople cannot. (And IT people cannot, but do anyway.)
But when it comes to evenings, weekends or weeks away, each of us must cultivate his or her own sense of confidence—that we're worth waiting a week for, that the work will be there when we return, that we deserve time away because we are not 24-hour, seven-day-a-week air traffic controllers or 911 operators.
In my younger days, when freelance was just another word for nothing left to lose, I used to say on my auto-reply that I'd be hard to reach because I was "on a ramble." Now that I own one good suit and mostly piss in one spot, I usually say on my auto reply that I'll be checking email occasionally, but unless the matter is urgent—and really, how urgent can writing about rhetoric really be?—let's connect next week.
That line almost puts the onus back on my correspondent to check back in with me next week. And it certainly gives me the breathing room I need, to be away when I'm away as fully as I'm here when I'm here.
Which is the basic idea.
What's your auto-reply, and why?
Postscript: The magazine editor did read and answer the email I'd sent while he was away—he was bluffing! he under-promised and over-delivered!—and yes, an excerpt from Raised By Mad Men will appear in the April 13 issue of Advertising Age.