This article is extremely timely for me, as I’m heading out for a week-long vacation next week, right as work has started to get very intense. If you’re like me, you really like to have all your “i”s dotted and your “t”s crossed before you leave the office for anything, never mind an extended absence, so leaving in the middle of it all can stress us out, but not if we keep some simple concepts in mind.
1. We NEED our vacation time
Above all else, to be productive, contributing members of a team, we have to be able to access our best thinking and our best selves. Without down time, we continually run at the same pace, over the same paths and in the exact same way. In the space of a vacation we can reflect, reboot and return to work with a shift in perspective. I’m personally over the glorification of “busy”. Busy is nothing without progression. Progression is impossible in a calendar without space.
2. Visiting is NOT vacation.
I’ve spent the last 12 years or more using my down time to visit my family. I love my family and we have fun together, but recently my husband and I took a long weekend away for just the two of us, for the first time since our honeymoon (TWELVE years ago!!!). During our time together, I realized how profoundly different it is to go away alone together (or alone by yourself) to unplug and rest. That weekend we chose to go device free except for Google maps and looking up good places to eat. Otherwise the phones were off, we read books and newspapers, played games, watched a little Netflix and hung out in great restaurants. We had a chance to talk about our life directions, get excited about our opportunities and make space for some big new initiatives. At the time we didn’t know how much stress was in store for us over the next six months, but we got more out of our four days away than we ever had with a week or two of visiting.
3. Preparation is one key and letting go is the other.
My mother was a dedicated teacher for over 30 years. She loved her work and used to spend hours making everything just right for the little souls that inhabited her world. My father, a somewhat more cynical employee, used to say that her presence was like a finger in a bucket of water. If you pulled out the finger, the water would flow into the space as if the finger was never there. Naturally, she and I disagree on the impact of someone’s presence at work, however, it’s true that things do go on whether you are there or not.
The good news is, if you’re a bit of a A-Type like me, there are some things you can do to de-stress about leaving, and they include both setting yourself and others up for success and allowing yourself to let things evolve as they will without you. Here’s the quick “Lazaruk List” for your consideration. As always, take what you like and leave the rest and let us know what you think:
Get as much as you can off your list: Where can you delegate, systemize or otherwise postpone things that aren’t urgent? In looking to offload, think about who you can enlist for help, where you might need things to be located (read: easy to find) and how they might handle a situation when you’re away (read: processes of who to ask, where to find information and permission to make decisions they need to make). Plan ahead for the next couple of weeks and set a few ‘by-when’ dates for tasks you know you’ll need to handle directly on your return.
Set yourself up for success– plan out the week you get back in more detail than you might otherwise do, taking particular care to set aside time on the first day or first few days for “Catching-Up”, either on emails, updates or other work that needs a bit of handling before you can jump right back into your routine. The length of time you need to catch up depends entirely on how long you’ve been away. A week in my world needs about three to five hours; a longer time needs a day and a half. Think a bit about your inbox and task list and anticipate how much time you might need to catch up. Double it and block it out in your calendar as busy. If you have time left over, terrific, but I guarantee if you don’t have enough, you’ll regret it.
Finish off the final day strong– before you go, set up your auto-responders on your email and your voicemail so people know you’re away. The strength of these depend on the boundaries you want to set with the people who may be trying to reach you. For example, if I’m away at a conference, I’ll often state when I’ll be checking email and that a response may be delayed. I’m still “working”, but my time is limited and telling people gives them the comfort and control of knowing when they will receive a response. If I’m away on vacation and really want to unplug, I’ll state outright that I won’t be checking email and will respond when I return to the office (on x date). Unless you’re an on-call brain surgeon or some other life-and-death professional, nothing is urgent enough to interrupt your down time. And even life-and-death professionals have other life-and-death professionals who can cover their load when they’re gone.
Finally, let it go. Know that the world, like that bucket of water, will go on without you while you’re away. Spend your vacation in person, not via smartphone, and you’ll bring back a richer, rested presence when you return.