Are you taking a vacation in the coming weeks? (You should--it's essential for your brain.) Will you spend that whole time unwinding, disconnecting from work worries, recharging your batteries and spending relaxed time with your loved ones? Or will you be sneaking away to finish up that last urgent email, sales pitch, or report that didn't get done before you left?
If I'm honest, I have to give myself a B- in this area. I just returned from eight days on the gorgeous Oregon coast, my first proper vacation in much too long, but while I was away I also wrote a column, presided over a conference call, and dealt with various ongoing issues. Only three days of the week’s vacation were completely uninterrupted by work.
Part of the problem was a lack of adequate preparation, so even though it's too late this time, I was really happy to get some vacation preparation tips from Jean-Louis Van Doorne, senior vice president at Dale Carnegie Training. It doesn't take that much effort to prepare properly for vacation time, he notes, and it's well worth it. "Doing so is a great way to ensure you are able to successfully step back from work and relax."
Here are his tips, which I'm planning to follow before the next time I take time off. If you have a vacation coming up, give them a try.
1. Give plenty of notice.
Ask yourself who inside and outside your company will be affected by the fact that you aren't around. Everyone on this list should be notified well in advance when you're going on vacation and for how long. (The fact that I didn't do this before leaving for Oregon is one reason I wound up working so much while away.)
To really make sure no one forgets when you're away, post your vacation dates in your calendar and send a calendar reminder (via Outlook, Gmail, etc.) to others in your organization and anyone outside who needs to know. "Leveraging the calendar reminder is essential for others to avoid any surprises and potential hiccups when you are going on vacation," Van Doorne says.
2. Send out pre-vacation status updates.
For any ongoing projects or other works in progress, send status updates to team members, customers, and anyone else who may be depending on you to complete a task. Let them know how far along you'll be with the task before you leave for vacation, and estimate when it will be completed after you return.
3. Set up a vacation auto-responder for email.
Even if you're going somewhere you'll be able to read your email and respond to anything urgent, an auto-responder is a good idea if only because it signals your commitment (to others and to yourself) not to work while you're supposed to be vacationing. This is another thing I should have done but didn't before my recent vacation.
One caveat: Make sure your auto-responder sends only one email a day to the same address, or else make sure to take yourself off any automated email lists before you go. Once I was on an email list with someone whose auto-responder created an infinite loop--the listserv kept sending out its vacation response message and then the auto-responder would respond to it--until it crashed the system.
4. Have your team practice working without you.
If you lead a company or team that has grown too accustomed to turning to you for answers to every question, now's the perfect time to start weaning them off that habit. Let team members know well in advance that you're going to be away and should be contacted only in a dire emergency. Then give them a chance to practice by turning off your phone for certain periods every day and perhaps working at home for a while.
If you don't take these steps you know what will happen: Your vacation will be interrupted by multiple phone calls asking you to answer a variety of questions your team won't feel confident enough to handle themselves. It may make you feel indispensable. But all you'll really be doing is depriving your employees of the chance to grow in their jobs, and yourself of the vacation you need and deserve.
5. Get a start on upcoming projects.
Obviously, your first priority is to complete–or delegate–whatever tasks need doing most immediately. But if you can, take the time to make a small start on that big project awaiting you when you return. "That way, you will be able to get ahead of the game and can ensure you are maximizing the effectiveness of your time spent at work before leaving," Van Doorne says. When you get back, it will be much easier to pick up a project that's already begun rather than starting completely from scratch.
6. Leave a clean desk.
Chances are you'll want to work right up until the moment you leave, Van Doorne says. While that's understandable, "there is nothing worse than returning from a relaxing vacation to piles of disorganized papers and mess."
With that in mind, leave a little time for cleanup at the end of your last pre-vacation day. "Leave your workspace area neat before heading out, making sure to remove all unnecessary clutter, such as coffee mugs and water bottles," he says. Throw out or recycle whatever you possibly can. Clearly label important papers and leave them where they're easily accessible. "This will ensure co-workers can easily find any necessary items they may need to reference."
Not only that--when your vacation is done, it'll also make for a happier return to the office.