"Dad, stop checking your email and come to the pool!"
I thought so.
I don't know during how many vacations I've subjected my family to this sort of behavior, but one summer, I finally realized it wasn't good for them, it wasn't good for me, and it wasn't good for my firm to be constantly connected and available while I was supposedly on vacation.
Here are some tips I've learned over the years to pave the way for a stress-free vacation:
1. Give notice well before before taking off.
Let your managers and colleagues know well in advance so they have sufficient time to arrange back-up resources. Don't you just hate it when you've got a big deadline looming (or two or three) and one of your key team members notifies you a week before the deadline that she's taking off on vacation ? I do.
I usually like to give at least a month's notice or more. This is often stated explicitly in an employment contract so be familiar with it and abide by it.
2. Finish up projects.
There's nothing better than that feeling you get when you finish a project, hand it over to a colleague or client, send an invoice, and declare that you're done. Try to do that with as many projects both large and small before you leave. It'll help clear your mind so you can be more in the moment as you enjoy those gorgeous sunsets.
3. Clarify project status.
For projects you just can't finish before you take off for vacation, be sure to provide complete status updates to managers and colleagues prior to leaving, and list the next steps and specific people who are responsible for following up while you're away.
4. Close communication loops.
Similar to finishing up projects, you should try to close open communication loops by declaring you'll be away for a period of time. Re-assign follow-up communications to a colleague if you can, and extract yourself from email threads that can grow very long while you are away.
This will help to manage expectations that you won't be available to respond or weigh-in, and will reduce the tsunami of incoming emails that you'll have to clean through upon your return.
5. Set expectations.
And speaking of managing expectations...I can't underscore the importance of setting the right expectations about your availability while you're away. I've done this the wrong way too many times.
Will you be completely disconnected and will not be responding to emails under any circumstance? If you'll be checking in, does this mean you are available for conference calls or even new assignments ? Or are you only available for urgent matters?
And while you are away, make sure your out-of-office behavior is consistent with the expectations you set before you leave. If you're responding to work-related emails while snorkeling with the turtles and whales off Maui, that sends the message that you're available.
6. Defer new project start dates.
Of course, this depends on the importance of the project and the availability of other management or support colleagues to pick up the slack while you are away. But if this is an option then take it. It'll reduce the open projects while you're away, and fill your pipeline so you'll be productive from day one (or day two) after you get back to the office.
7. Line-up the right back-up.
Make sure you find skilled and responsible colleagues to provide back-up support while you're away. Emphasis on the word "and" here: you might have a capable colleague who can do the job but doesn't have the time to support you while you're away (or who may be less than willing to take up the slack on your behalf for any number of reasons). The opposite might also be true. So choose your back-up wisely.
8. Provide specific contact details in your out-of-office reply.
Try to include a contact name, email and phone number in your out-of-office auto-reply message so people who are looking to reach you have someone to turn to while you're away.
And, if you do list a specific colleague in your auto-reply email, make sure she actually consents to having your onslaught of messages directed her way.
9. Communicate your return date.
Be clear about your return date, and build-in a brief time buffer to allow you to recover from jetlag or otherwise get up to speed on things. And be clear about when you are actually available, and let people know you've returned.
So go ahead and take that well-deserved break.
Just be sure to tie-up loose ends at the office before you head out the door and make a beeline for the beach.
And above all, don't forget to give your loved ones your undivided attention.
Because they deserve nothing less.