Summer is here! For many of us that evokes happiness with thoughts of vacation, outdoor activities, beach, barbeques and fun.
But for others that means Stress. The kids are out of school. Budget season is approaching. Co-workers are on vacation and there’s no one to pick up the slack. And you can’t even begin to think about taking your own vacation – which may sadly be the biggest stresser of all.
Time away from work is vital to recharging your battery. When you’re constantly “going” it becomes very easy to get into auto pilot mode, rushing from one task to the next. This isn’t healthy for you or your organization. “Our brains never have the bandwidth to actually recharge or rejuvenate” says Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage. Time away from the office is essential for us all to refuel our passions and recharge our batteries.
Feeling like you have to be “on” 24/7 leads to overwhelm, stress and burnout. Counter to intuition, it decreases productivity and innovation and increases absenteeism and burnout. So taking time away from work is essential for you to be more productive at work. And for many of us, it’s important to understand, vacation is NOT working remotely from the beach.
However, often its easier said than done.
There’s lots of advice out there about how to disconnect from work and return to the office re-energized. Most important is to find the right vacation approach for you. Can you be completely out of touch or will you be less stressed if you do a few quick check ins?
What do you need to put in place so you can truly enjoy your time away and not think about coming back to 1000 emails and all kind of drama? How can you ensure that you don’t feel stress, guilt and fear from untethering from your phone/email?
Planning is everything! Often, the amount you plan is directly correlated to the level of enjoyment you have while you’re out of office.
Work with your supervisor to plan your vacation when it’s not going to severely impact the organization. Sometimes things happen and you have to attend your sister’s wedding across the country the week before your biggest client has asked you to re-pitch for their business. But that’s not usually the case. And if it is, there is always a way to make things work. The earlier you begin to plan, the better the outcomes are.
Before you head out, create and share a plan with colleagues to let them know which activities you’ll need to have covered, the status and where to find all necessary information.
Many companies use cloud-based tools for project management and customer relationship management. In these situation, the information is easily shared and available (when systems are used properly and kept up to date). Even if all information is current, it’s still important to spend some time with your colleagues to let them know explicitly what is on your plate, pending deadlines and any particulars about clients and open business that will make their experience easier and more successful.
For organizations without these systems, this is a good opportunity to create a shared database/server to host this type of information. It’s never a good thing for any company information to be saved only on one employee’s laptop. We all know that too often “things happen” and then vital information could be gone.
2. Choose a Delegate
Choose a delegate to be your point person in your absence and let them hold down the fort for you. You can do same when s/he goes on vacation. This temporary handover can also offer direct reports the opportunity to step up and stretch themselves. Great managers know that success means developing your people.
Chances are, no matter how essential you think you are you’ll come back and lo and behold, the business has survived.
3. To Unplug or Not Unplug?
If you can, cut the cord when you take vacation. It’s difficult to really get away from work, enjoy your time off, and truly recharge when you’re in touch with the office twice a day. Avoid checking work e-mail and discourage colleagues and clients from calling. This is why you planned and chose a delegate. Now it’s on you to enforce this.
Yes, the goal is to separate yourself from work as much as possible. However, for some, a quick scan of messages can actually dispel fears that the office is falling apart without you and let you relax at the pool in peace. It’s actually rare that something will arise that just can’t wait.
If you can’t fully “cut the cord”, which many of us can’t, then decide how to minimally be in touch so you can enjoy your vacation without the added stress of thinking about what’s piling up at work.
Create a system that works for you and your current work situation.
A. The preferred option is that you let everyone know you’ll be on vacation AND that you’re not checking in until your return and you have coverage through your delegate. However, if someone needs an urgent response and your delegate cannot provide this, only your assistant or the delegate will be speaking with you during the vacation. However, your delegate should be empowered to make any necessary decisions during your time away and you should be prepared to support all decisions made upon your return.
You pre-arrange a time to speak to the delegate/assistant each day for 20 minutes or so and they block for you – meaning they only share urgent issues that absolutely cannot be handled by anyone else. They don’t go through all your calls or emails, office updates or gossip and you speak only to this person, not for them to forward your call to everyone in the office.
· In advance, define “Urgent” with your delegate/assistant so s/he knows what “urgent” really means. It’s not defined by angry clients, colleagues or other external forces
· A great tip is to create a temporary “vacation” email address so if your delegate needs to email you, you won’t be temped to go through all the emails in your inbox (remember, you did put the “out of office” notification on, so no one should be expecting a response anyway)
B. The less preferred option (since this can become a HUGE time suck) is to set 30-60 minutes per day to “check in” and go through your email and voicemails. However, remember you did post an “out of office’ note which tells people you’re not working during vacation. If you do respond, then they will take it as an invitation to continue to take up your vacation time with their needs. This defeats the purpose of vacation.
It’s so important to compartmentalize any work-related tasks separating them from essential leisure time. Know that if the two blend into each other, you’re likely to feel cheated afterward.
Before you go, communicate with your clients, partners, vendors – whomever you speak to regularly and let them know the exact dates you will be away, the status of your activities with them and who to speak with during your time out of office and if you’re checking in, how you will be doing this.
Make sure you put an out of office notification on your email/voicemail along with who contact in your absence.
5. Manage your re-entry
Just as you carefully prepare for your time out of office, take a moment to plan for your return to work. A rushed re-entry completely removes all positive effects of the vacation.
Resist the pressure to fly back Sunday night and jump right back in Monday morning. You need some transition time. Block off the first half day back as a work-from-home day, if possible. If not, go in to the office at the normal time and schedule no morning meetings, just dedicate this time to answer calls and emails. Focused, uninterrupted time allows for a quicker grasp of the big-picture updates in the company and for a faster, response things that require your attention.
And whatever you do, try not to work late that first day back. It’s too much of a jolt to the system. A couple of late nights at the office that first week, and it is easy to see why people often say their just-finished vacation feels like a distant memory.
When you set expectations and have the right processes in place, everything will be fine while you're gone and you’ll be a much happier and more productive employee upon your return.
On their death bed, no one ever said “I wish I spent more vacation time checking email” so set yourself up for success and enjoy your time out of office. You deserve it!