What Vacation Taught Me About Productivity

But for real, though

What-Vacation-Has-Taught-Me-About-Productivity-Man-Repeller Feature1

There is no way that the kids in ’90s movies could hang with the email-attached parents of today; they hated when mom and dad had to work off the 9-to-5 schedule. In Hook, Max developed a lifelong complex after his dad Peter Banning (née Pan) shouted at him for being annoying during important international phone calls. Little Giants’ Johnny no doubt spent the remainder of his adult life telling his therapist about all of the times his dad missed his football games. And in Trading Mom, Mrs. Martin’s kids literally traded her in for a selection of other mothers. Cold.

But the parents of 2016 are so much worse. They aren’t just missing their kids’ soccer practices to sit in the Honda sedan and talk on their car phone the whole time, they are answering emails about brand sponsorships on the big drop at Splash Mountain and asking coaches for the WiFi password so that they can download the beta of their company’s newest app. It’s not their fault, of course. It’s the internet’s. With the web comes so many wonderful things but also the reality that no vacation is an actual vacation-from-work so long as data is turned on. We are always reachable.

Now, I am not a parent, it may surprise you to know. But I am always “on” thanks to neurosis and the fact that the internet, like Wall Street and my next door neighbor’s three-year-old, never sleeps. And I recently went on vacation with a group of friends where, despite my best vacation-prep effort, I still had a size-able to-do list. But I wasn’t about to be the dad from Liar, Liar. Oh no. That would give my 90’s-raised friends some crazy PTSD. So instead, I had to learn — once and for all — the art of productivity.

Who would have thought vacation would be my teacher?


1) Make a Master To-Do List

Write down everything you have to do, including every saggy bow that you left untied back at the office. This is for your peace of mind so that you don’t forget something upon your return.

Not going anywhere? Great. Now you have a frame of reference to help you plan for the regular work week ahead.

2) Prioritize

Make a second list of any task that requires your completion in order for another person to do her job on time. Do these first so that you’re not dealing with “Hey, just checking in here, asshole” emails via the shoddy WiFi at your vacation spot’s brewery.

Next comes the items that you’re on deadline for.

Not going anywhere? Doesn’t matter. Always cross off items that affect other people first so that you get left alone. Of course, if someone asks you to do something after you’ve set up your to-do list and she’s not your boss or immediate supervisor, ask her to let you know the latest she can receive. Feel free to negotiate based on realistic goals (i.e. “Can I get the numbers into you Monday and the final draft of the report in by Wednesday?) then respect her answer in accordance with your own priorities.

3) Create a Welcome Back folder

For everything else, create a folder in your inbox called “Welcome Back.” Add an exclamation point in there if the name alone already fills you with fear. If you are someone who cannot stand a messy, unread inbox, file E V E R Y email in here that does not pertain to your immediate to do list. You’ll deal with this stuff once your to-do list is down.

Not going anywhere? Only do this if you are known to self-sabotage your productivity by checking email. 

Which ties into the next point.

4) Get a Pair of Mail Goggles

Never let your eyes stray from the to-do list. Never. The moment you check a random, seemingly harmless is the moment you derail your whole day. You have set up your to-do list accordingly, so TO-DO it. Stop letting the email equivalent of Roger from Sister, Sister ruin your productive day.


5) Create Your Own Library Vibe

Taking part in a share house of 12+ individuals will very quickly train you to drown out outside noise (especially when the outside noise is drinking and you have a story due). Immense internal zen (ahahahaahahah) helps. But if you’re not an ohm-er and you can’t physically leave the location you’re in, pick up your computer, find the most isolated corner you can and stick earplugs in underneath noise-canceling over-the-ear headphones

6) Wake Up Early to Get the Worst Tasks Done First

I know this sucks and everyone else gets to sleep in but I guarantee you — handshake to Moses — that there will be a late-afternoon/pre-dinner nap. There is always a 5 P.M. (approximate) group-wide nap time on vacation.

Not going anywhere? Wake up early and remind yourself that if you actually get your work for the day done then you have the night to relax and nap and be a human.

7) Set Small Windows and Tight Deadlines

If you don’t actually have newsroom-quick due dates, pretend you do. Mark estimated, ideal time of completion for each task. (E.g. Write story: Done by 11 AM. Edit all of Tuesday’s stories: Done by 3 PM) Stick to those assigned times as though you were in competition with yourself.

8) Do Not Give in to the Endless Night

During a normal work-week, it’s way too easy to give up around 5 P.M. and take an unprofessionally-long break because you know you can always cancel dinner plans with that that girl you didn’t really want to so see anyway and work late. No! On vacation, you are rushing the clock to get work done before the whole house is up-and-at-’em and actually making moves out the door before giving you grief about not coming. Remember that on vacation, the nights count too. Get your work done pre-beach and spend the rest of the day soaking it allll up.

Not going anywhere? So what. It’s still summer. Don’t waste it at your desk.

9) Suck it Up and PLOW THROUGH

Work can suck regardless of venue, so you might as well put your head down and just do it. (Nike, I accept Venmo!) No Facebook. No Instagram because you have writer’s block or Excel nausea. The sooner you get your work done, the less you’ll have to think about it. So much of the stress of work, I think, is stressing about doing what you eventually know you’re going to do anyway.


10) Eat Up the Breaks You Do Take With a Giant Waffle Cone

If you’re on vacation and an activity is planned from 1 PM to 5 PM (giving you a fair amount of morning work time and maybe two hours post-activity before dinner) and you have so much work to do that you’re annoying everyone in the house, complete everything you can up until, say, 12:30 PM. Send an email out to anyone who needs to know with bullet points of what you’ve accomplished, what still needs to be accomplished and when you expect to have it done by. (So much of their anxiety, if they’re bugging you more than usual, is not knowing when you’ll be reachable again.)

ENJOY YOUR JETSKI. Leave your phone at home. Wear sunscreen. Have a drink.

And then, at 5 PM, finish up before 7 PM as you would a typical work day. Then close your laptop — whether you’re at the beach or the office — and sign off for the damn day.

Collage by Ana Tellez and Lily Ross.


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  • Aydan

    YES on this!!! International travel seriously saves my butt because I am not required to be online (even if I am just in Corsica or Iceland or …) so therefore I end up DELETING my work email off of my phone (and iPad if I’ve brought it with me). I know this is a luxury I’ll only have being 26 and not being the top rung in an office, but let me tell you, it has given me some of the most blissful vacations you can imagine! And when it comes to just a weekend around town (aka home), I’ll even make sure on Friday to figure out if there is anything that needs to be taken care of over the weekend, if not, I’ll turn off notifications for my work email (again, I realize, working on a team with five people means everyone can just text me if there’s an emergency) and it has SERIOUSLY helped me manage my stress (again, I recognize not everyone has this luxury), but at the very least your list ideas are super helpful because anytime I get stressed that’s exactly what I do a shortly thereafter I feel okay!!

  • This list is definitely giving us the needed kick to plow through this week under this sweltering heat! P.S. we are loving those GIFs (crying laughing emoji)
    The Newsette HQ

  • I flat out set my last Out of Office/vacation e-mail as “will not have access to e-mail.” I wasn’t lying – there really was no reception/cell service for most of the parts of our road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway.

  • EmilyWilson

    This is a struggle that ’90s kids never saw coming. It used to be that only high-powered, wealthy, car-phone execs had to work outside of work. Now it’s a damn near universal expectation, and the result is that vacations don’t hit the ‘total reset’ button like they used to. I took a vacation last week that was partly remote camping trip. Two and a half days of being unplugged was pure bliss and made space for lots of Eat-Pray-Love-style reflection. But as soon I as got data back on my phone, I saw how emails and texts I had to answer and almost had a panic attack. Since then I’ve been playing catch-up. Is it worth it???