Friday, May 16, 2014

The 7 Kinds of E-mail Vacation Auto-Responders Everyone Hates

If you're like me, your e-mail in-box is probably filled with vacation auto-replies with subject lines like "Out of Office" and "Away From Desk." It's the end of summer, and even the unlucky souls who remain at work this week will duck out early on Friday to beat traffic and get a jump on the three-day weekend.
You don't really need to put up an auto-responder for Labor Day weekend, since it's more or less assumed that you're not working. But if you must inform e-mailers of your absence, be warned: The auto-responder is a delicate art. And, as with any art, what you leave out is just as important as what you put in.
Here are the seven kinds of auto-responders to be avoided at all costs:
1. The Location-Brag
An auto-responder that says, "I'm sunning myself on a pristine beach in Santorini and will have limited access to e-mail until Tuesday" might be an accurate reflection of your travel plans. It's also going to make you look like an asshole.
2. The Seniority Show-off
On a similar note, please do not conclude your away message by reminding others of the power you wield at work. ("If you need immediate assistance, please contact my executive assistant at, or my associate executive assistant at, or my executive assistant's executive assistant at") We get it — you're rich.
3. The Overly Complicated Reply Process
If your auto-responder includes more than two ways to get in touch with you in an emergency, you're doing it wrong. By the time you get to "If your message is urgent, contact me through, then text '50445' to my Google Voice number, then shoot an e-mail to," we've already given up. This is an out-of-office message, not a last will and testament.
4. The Workaholic Feint
You don't need to tell us that you're "traveling for work" on Labor Day weekend. You're playing beer pong at a barbecue. We know.
5. The Not-Even-Pretending-I'm-Going-to-See-This-E-mail Note
You may never be able to respond to every e-mail that arrives during vacation. That's okay. What's not okay is saying, straight-up, that you won't even look at the e-mails you get. When your auto-responder says, "If you want to reach me, re-send your e-mail after September 3," you're implying that you're sooo cool and sooo popular that you'll be faced withmountains of e-mails when you return, and you can't be bothered to sort through even the most important ones. Which, unless you're a Cabinet member or a Fortune 500 CEO, probably isn't true.
6. The "Sporadic" Lie
Has there ever been a less true sentence in the English language than "I will be checking e-mail sporadically"? Please. This is the age of the push notification. If you have your phone on you, you're going to see every e-mail within minutes of its arrival. If you're going to leave your phone behind while you scale Kilimanjaro/go kayaking/drink caipirinhas in Quogue, you won't have any e-mail access at all. In 2013, there is no middle ground.
7. The Option-Giver
This auto-responder is the textual equivalent of a too-long phone routing system. "If you're a member of the media, please call Matt at 212-123-4567. If you're a client wanting to get in touch, please e-mail If you're a close personal friend, please text my cell phone. If you need to speak with me regarding my charity work, please e-mail my philanthropic liaison at" One reliable point person, who can direct people to the others, will do.
(Note: An even worse corollary to the Option-Giver is the Humorous-Option Giver, which includes items like "If you're a Nigerian prince looking to partner with me on an exciting investment opportunity, my bank routing number is 234-5678." Do not, under any circumstances, do this.)
So, What Should I Do?
The perfect e-mail auto-responder follows this basic template: "I will be out of the office until Tuesday, September 3. If it's an emergency, please contact John at 212-123-4567. Otherwise, I will get back to you when I return."
You can try being clever, like this honest auto-responder by venture capitalist Josh Kopelman. But be warned: Going freestyle is rarely the right call, and yours will probably not be half as funny. So just be honest, succinct, and straightforward. And enjoy the beach.

How to Sleep on a Plane

Red Eye Flights

Sleeping on an airplane often requires more effort than it does relaxation, but it is absolutely worth it. Late night flights are called "red eyes" for a reason and no matter how energetic or fit you may be, muscling through your day on minimal sleep is never a good idea. That said, late night flights are also an extremely practical way to get more bang for your vacation buck. The key is to have a system for getting some shuteye between runways. Here's a few tips that can make nodding off considerably easier.

Choose Your Itinerary Wisely
When overnight travel is inevitable, nothing is more important than choosing the right itinerary. Pick the nonstop every time and, if one isn't available, choose the itinerary with the longest single leg. You'll have more uninterrupted time to nap, wake up, and try to doze off again. Late departures are especially helpful unless you plan to work during the trip. 
Next, consider the seat type and location. Use the restroom before you board and pick a window seat. It provides more space to lean against the window and no one will climb over you. Seats near the front of the cabin tend to be quieter, but avoid anything near a lavatory or galley.

Save frequent flyer miles for long-haul international flights that have lie-flat seats in first or business class. Carriers known for exceptionally high standards – including Singapore AirlinesCathay Pacific, and Emirates – have extra-wide seats similar to a real bed. Others pack in business class passengers like sardines or use seats that recline at an angle. Use SeatGuru or Routehappy to learn more about the options on your flight.

Prepare Your Body
Some people swear by prescription sleep aids, but always consult a physician before attempting to use medication to get better sleep. And you'll want to avoid alcohol, which, coupled with the dry air, may cause dehydration and make waking up a nightmare. Stay hydrated during the day so you can avoid eating or drinking anything during the flight and restroom breaks. The most dedicated travelers will gradually adjust their alarm clocks up to three hours earlier than normal. You're not getting quality sleep so there is some virtue in at least getting a jump on handling jet lag – especially if you're headed west and will be going to be earlier than usual.
Finally, bring some high quality earplugs and a facemask to keep out unwanted sound and light. Don't rely on the cheap freebies provided, which are scratchy at best. Loose clothing will help avoid the stuffy feeling that comes from recirculated air. Untuck your shirt before you shut your eyes.

Recover from the Ordeal
A problem with most red-eye flights is that you arrive exhausted in the morning. In order to wake up, head to the lounge or your hotel and submerge your face in the nearest sink. Your body's reflex is to lower your heart rate when your head is submerged.  You'll feel calmer and, a cup of coffee later, ready to face the day.