How to Look Like a Busy Writer When You’re Out of the Office

What I’m reading: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

What I’m listening to: Die Like a Rich Boy by Frightened Rabbit

My dream house - somewhere in Glencoe

My dream house – somewhere in Glencoe

Back. Back from a wet, chilly Scottish vacation that was wonderful in every way. Back to a hot, humid existence where my car suffered for the intense heat as it sat in the airport parking (my dash surround literally warped and pulled off the car).

Back to reality, which can sometimes be painful. A cousin, one I’d recently rediscovered and was enjoying the company of, passed away within weeks of having a tumor removed. His death has hit me like a hammer. That’s what happens when people who are important to you without you realizing it disappear from your life. The funeral was yesterday — 300 miles away. Physically, I could not do it, having just returned 12 hours earlier.

Back also to work. Projects are waiting, as are the checks from previous projects (the best part of coming home!). One project is about to be completed. Another is just gearing up. Yet another is stretching into November. While I was gone, I was devoid of Internet connection for most of the trip thanks to the remoteness and, frankly, my desire to leave it behind. Still, I did see emails come in — a few considering how many I get versus what little download time I had. Some were from clients, who knew I was gone. Still, it’s hard for them (and for you) to be without any communication sometimes. Not always, but sometimes.

This post is about how to look like you’re in the office when you’re not.

It’s been my contention that every time I shut that suitcase or book that ticket, new work comes in. New clients contact me, regular clients need that emergency work, project revisions come back after I’ve waited months….

You know the spiel. You’ve probably witnessed the same kind of magnetic pull your own vacation has on clients.

So what do you do when you’re poolside (or in my case, hiking a mountain in the driving rain) and that email comes in from that client you’ve worked hard to land or the one that’s nearing the end of the project with you?

You respond.

Here are two instances from my own trip to illustrate why that’s important — again, sometimes. We shouldn’t be in the habit of sacrificing our downtime every time a client beckons.

Client confusion. I saw one note come in, then another followed it, dated two days later. Oh dear. The client hadn’t read my note about when I’d be away. I had to respond so they didn’t feel I’d abandoned them. So I answered — one brief sentence, an assurance that I’d be back on the 15th, but also an acknowledgement that I wasn’t completely unreachable (but close — I couldn’t have done anything more than answer questions).

New client feedback on proposals. Another note was from a new client whose initial payment was received right before I’d left. No way I wanted that client thinking I’d abandoned them right after cashing the check. So I responded to them, as well. “I’m back on the 15th. Happy to do as you suggest that week. Do you want to chat via phone when I return?”

That last line was important to add, I think. The first two lines, alone, could be misconstrued as a brush-off or, if the client hasn’t begun to trust me, a dodging of the work. The offer to call shows I’m still engaged even when I’m thousands of miles away.

Both of these interactions took me five minutes total to read their notes and respond. Five minutes subtracted from a two-week vacation is no impact to me at all. For the client? It’s a courtesy that they appreciate.

Not every case requires you to stay in touch with clients. In fact, I’m a proponent of unplugging entirely whenever you’re able. But when projects are pending or unfinished, it doesn’t hurt to connect with clients, however briefly, to remind them you’ve not forgotten them.

Writers, in what cases are you willing to be in contact with clients while you’re away?

When do you think it’s not okay to be responding to clients while on vacation?

When have you done a little work on vacation? Was it a little or a lot? Would you change things going forward?

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  • Paula Hendrickson August 16, 2016 at 11:10 am

    Welcome back, Lori! Hope your dashboard is an easy repair.

    Not being much of a vacationer, I have to say I am getting better at not replying to most work calls and emails outside of business hours, unless it’s an urgent case. (I think I’m actually enforcing a passive-aggressive way to remind certain people that deadlines are deadlines and I’m not being paid to give up my limited personal time.

    But what I really want to address is your dream house. I love seeing beautiful parts of the world and knowing some people actually just think of it as home.

    • lwidmer August 16, 2016 at 12:46 pm

      Isn’t it amazing, Paula? The mountains behind it are stunning — I just couldn’t fit it all into the photo.

      I think simply not answering emails when you’re not working isn’t passive-aggressive (assuming this is your method). To me, it’s limiting my computer time and my stress time. But I do agree that clients need a message. I usually give them a direct reminder: “I’m sorry I missed your email, but I don’t work weekends and am rarely near the computer.”

      If that doesn’t work, I’m right there with you — just ignore them.

      • Paula Hendrickson August 16, 2016 at 3:01 pm

        It’s astounding the number of publicists who work around the clock and expect me to as well. The big difference: they’re collecting a hefty salary while I’m paid by project so there’s no incentive for me to match their hours.

        • lwidmer August 16, 2016 at 4:49 pm

          There’s the difference, for sure. I had a similar situation with a guy who would answer emails at midnight. Naturally when I wouldn’t jump at his directive to call him during my vacation, he and I parted company. Never regretted that one bit.