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29 Apr

Plan for a truly unplugged vacation


Date: 2015-04-29 12:00 Comments: 0 st

Believe it or not, but the summer and time for vacation will be here sooner than you think. It might feel far off now when winter is still fresh in memory, but before you know it the evenings are warmer and the nights are longer. At least speaking for myself, spring is always intense and I have a feeling already that it will be Midsummer faster than I now think.

The vacation is a time for recreation and reflection, but it might easily come with a slight feeling of stress and inadequacy. We work and work all the way to the very last moment before our free time begins, and yet we find it difficult to do and finish all the things we needed to get done before our vacation. Just when you have managed to unwind, a colleague who needs your help to find a few documents in your office calls. And when you get back to the office after five lovely weeks of relaxation, you are greeted by an overloaded email-inbox and 800 unread emails.

Perhaps it feels very distant and far-off, but if we do something concrete now to make it easier to both leave the office for, as well as return from our vacation, we will be ahead of ourselves and not feel as stressed when the time for a break rolls around.

When I was interviewed about what we can do to plan for our vacation in a structured way, this is what I responded:

Do this

  1. Reserve an empty slot of time in your calendar just before and after your vacation. Try not to schedule any meetings during the week prior to your break (or at least make sure you have as few meetings as possible). You might very well need a full week just to finish the tasks you really need to get done before you leave as well as the tasks others “just need you to help them with before you leave”.

    During your absence the emails will continue to flow into your inbox. And when you get back you will need to address every single one of them. If you then have filled your first week with meetings, you will fall even further behind on your correspondence for another week and it might easily take you several weeks (and in some cases months) to get caught up with your emails. Hence, block time during your first week back as well. I usually think along the lines of “one week away from work = a full day of responding to emails” (since I receive between 60 and 80 emails in a day).

  2. Make the material your colleagues need while you are gone easily available. If you want to decrease the frequency of disruptions by colleagues calling you and asking for instance where they can find the plans for the project you are working on, place whatever material it is probable that they might need to find clearly visible on your desk. Sure, it is a while until you need to do this, but create a document today where you make note of the material others might need when you are gone as you come to think of it during the months to come. This way you gradually construct a checklist which you can use right before your vacation. So, just before you leave the office on your last day, place everything on the list on your desk. It is now much easier for others to find what they are looking for (given that the desk is somewhat empty of other things).

  3. Skim through your to-do-list and look for tasks which are due during the time you are away. Make a decision now if you:
    • should move the due date to a later date (and let those you are performing the task for know now)
    • should move the due date to an earlier date (and hence complete the task well ahead of schedule)
    • should delegate the task to a colleague who is not on vacation when you are (and also schedule a time to meet if you need to show or teach this person anything in order for them to complete the task)

No hassle while going on or returning from your vacation
If you start making arrangements for a smooth transition to and from your time off, you prevent any feelings of stress and inadequacy, and definitely make your weeks off work more enjoyable. It will be easier to get going again after your holiday and you will not have to process old emails several weeks after your return to work.

What is your secret?
How do you make sure that going on and returning from a vacation is done as smoothly as possible? Write a comment to share your findings. 

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