Tuesday, May 13, 2008

How to Take a Vacation as a CIO

I've written that being a CIO is not a job, it's a lifestyle. Given the CIO's responsibilities, is a vacation possible? Can you really unplug? Here's the way I do it.

1. Pick a second in command to run the operation while you are away
Just as a military operation would appoint a commander or watch officer, assign someone else to run the operations while you are away. Broadly communicate that this delegate is in charge and can make decisions in your absence.

2. Email a bit in the morning and at night
When I go on vacation, I do email early in the morning before my family gets up and I email late in the evening after my family goes to bed. This means that I can resolve all issues and keep my email queue empty. When I return to the office, there is nothing waiting for me. A great vacation is one that is easy to return from. The burden of having 5000 emails and 5 crises to resolve is high, so I invest a bit of time each day to ensure my desk is empty when I return, minimizing the emotional cost of a vacation.

3. Set expectations with an out of office message and enjoy each vacation day
Since I have a Blackberry strapped to my body 21 hours a day, I generally do not use out of office messages. During August, while I'm climbing in Yosemite, I cannot physically answer email most of the day. My out of office message provides the details of my climbing schedule and sets expectations when I will be reachable.

4. Own the appropriate mobile technologies
I own a Blackberry 8707G six band phone which works on every square inch of the planet with cellular technology, including Japan. Every airport I land at has GSM/GPRS or UMTS, ensuring I can connect as needed. During my 2 weeks of climbing and hiking in August, I will not bring a laptop and will exclusively rely on my Blackberry to keep my email queue empty.

5. Avoid major infrastructure changes during your vacation
Change is the most likely cause of downtime. By minimizing major change during your time away, you can reduce the risk of outages during vacations.

6. Pick the time of year when stakeholders are on vacation
If senior management and other major stakeholders are on vacation, there are fewer urgent requests for new projects or issue resolution.

7. Avoid vacations during a time of organizational instability
I've been in organizations with major leadership changes i.e. CEO, Dean, your boss etc. I recommend avoiding vacations during times of great transition, since you want to be around to defend your position and your department as needed.

8. Be able to return in case of emergency
Last year, the Joint Commission arrived for a surprise accreditation inspection on the first day of my vacation. It was so important to demonstrate our medication reconciliation system and communicate our plans for quality improvement applications that I agreed to travel back from my vacation for a day to ensure we had the best showing possible.

9. Build a Partnership with your family
My wife and I have been together for 28 years (I married the first woman I dated in college), and she's very tolerant of my various activities from working long hours to climbing isolated mountains. My wife, daughter and I spend time together every day and we support each other's lives, realizing that at times the best support is allowing each other time alone.

10. Tolerate ambiguity
Take each day of your vacation as it comes, and go with the flow. If you need to make a critical call, that's ok, your family will forgive you. If you are late responding to important email that's ok, your customers will forgive you. Staying loosely connected, not disconnected, and reacting to events without worrying about a precise schedule will make your vacation restorative and your return to the office easy.

Using these approaches, I'm able to balance family time, personal time, and work time on vacation in a way that works for everyone. From August 9 to August 24, my blogs will slow down and my email will flow only in the night and morning hours. I hope you'll enjoy a bit of time off too!

2 comments:

Jeff said...

BlackBerry keeps me connected, too. A co-worker reminds me the iPhone is down to $199 now, though, and then shows off his...

We have a BlackBerry server upgrade, along with an Exchange Server 2007 rollout, in 2 weeks. Only about 2 weeks after that's done and running smoothly can I do some vacationing.

Great blog -- I'm using your network outage story in a Masters degree paper right now, thanks!

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