Here's a helpful reminder for you: vacations are actually supposed to be relaxing.
OK, not all of them. If you're a college student with months of empty time available, you probably should think of ways to spend your days that don't just involve beach chairs and umbrella cocktails. Likewise, getting away to volunteer or adventure to hard-to-reach but rewarding locales can sometimes be great.
But for most entrepreneurs, the trouble isn't too many meaningful but potentially stressful getaways. It's that a chilled out break with family or friends that's supposed to be a chance to kick back and clear your head, instead becomes an occasion for work-related guilt and worry. You stress about the state of your business while you're away, annoy your travelling companions by working instead of relaxing, and generally end up coming back (to a pile of accumulated work) less refreshed than when you left.
Is this fate avoidable? Indeed it is, insists author and happiness expert Christine Carter on the blog of UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center. She offers a three-step plan of attack to make your time away actually relaxing.
There are those out there who argue that it is OK to bow to the inevitable and work a bit while on vacation, claiming it is possible combine a holiday with an unsevered connection to the office and still come back refreshed. Carter isn't among them.
"This might be blazingly obvious, but not working is a critical aspect of actually taking time off," she admonishes type-A professionals. How do you accomplish total disconnection in the real world? "See if you can find a vacation partner, someone who will cover for you at work should an urgent situation arise. (A reciprocal relationship is ideal: They handle your work while you are gone, then you do the same when they take their vacation.)," suggests Carter. Then tell your give your team your partner's contact details and what to expect from you (i.e. absolutely no communication while you're away).
Carter makes a point here that absolutely bears emphasizing -- vacations are not simply meant to furnish impressive photos for Facebook! The trip that looks the coolest on social media is not necessarily the one that will do your mental health (and long-term productivity) the most good.
"We pack our vacations with nonstop action when what we really need is time at the pool to nap... Our more more more culture leads us to believe that more will definitely be better--more activities, more destinations, more sights to be seen," she writes, but more excitement isn't always better. "Before you pack your vacation with a lot of stuff that will look good on Facebook but will actually leave you needing a vacation from your vacation, schedule yourself some downtime," Carter insists. Also, consider carefully if the adventure/ stress quotient of your planned getaway is really what you need at this particular moment.
Have a re-entry strategy.
Even if your vacation was the mellowest break ever, you're going to quickly lose that chilled out vibe if you come back to a stressed out team and insane to-do list. Carter suggests you give yourself a little bit of time to get your head in the game when you return (no getting in on a six a.m. flight and heading to the office at nine!) and having someone sort through your email while you're away, deleting junk, responding to (or forwarding) anything urgent, and moving items that you'll need to respond to into a special folder.
Others have suggested more radical approaches to avoiding coming back to thousands of unread messages, which might be worth a try, but the larger point is simply to consider carefully not only how to avoid stress on your vacation, but also on your re-entry.
And how about if it's not you but your staff that's struggling to really get away from the office and unplug? HBR recently offered a great post for bosses, offering advice on how to encourage your team to take the vacation time they need.
Be honest, will you get a chance to really unwind this summer?