It’s summertime and a lot of us are taking a vacation for week or two off to relax and recharge. Whether we’re heading to faraway places by car, plane, or motorcycle… or staycationing on the couch with a good book, it’s a much-needed break from normal routine, no matter how much we love our jobs.
However for some, it seems like vacations cause more stress than they’re supposed to relieve.
During the first year of my career, I had to take over half of December off because I barely used any vacation during the first eleven months. If I didn’t use it, I’d lose it. Maybe it was because I was working so hard I felt like I didn’t have time to take a breath. Or maybe I thought if I left and nothing crumbled, my boss would figure out just how easily dispensable I was. Whatever the reason, it was dumb.
Now, I take at least 4-5 weeks of vacation each year. And on top of that, in between my current assignment and the next, I plan to take 3 months off. Why the change? Did I get lazy, stumble upon a heap of money, or grow to hate work? No. I learned that taking time off is good for my health, relationships, and overall productivity.
In the past, I’ve seen too many examples of people taking half-ass vacations (myself included). Sending out emails, texting for updates on the business, and calling in for meetings. All I can think to say is:
Man! We work too damn hard to be doing that… to ourselves and our families.
Annalisa and I are coming up on a 12-day trip to the Pacific Northwest so this is very much on my mind.
It’s a busy time at work right now but so is any other time. Plus I know I have capable people on my team that will keep making progress on our plans. Who knows, they might even move faster without me around! And most importantly, there’s more to me than what I do for work so I want to make sure I live that way. I’m pumped to go on another adventure with Annalisa, the people we’ll meet at the World Domination Summit, and for all the food trucks I get to sample.
The trip is still a month out but I want to start preparing for it. The preparation I’m talking about here isn’t the normal checklist consisting of hotels, food, and transportation. It’s the type of preparation that allows me to feel good about how I’m leaving my team and business so that I can be fully present doing whatever we’ll be up to!
Here are the steps in that checklist I’ve found to be most effective.
Make sure all of my team leaders have clear plans for the stretch of time I’ll be gone.
By getting on the same page about what needs to be delivered despite my absence, we cut out the surprises. For us, this will be a piece of cake because we develop 3 month action plans that my teams are used to reviewing weekly and actioning daily. If you and your team don’t have a process in place yet, no worries. You can simply jot down key deliverables. You don’t need to get down to the nitty gritty of who’s doing what when and where… but you could. Does this mean that nothing will be missed? Of course not. If you work in an environment that asks for too many things to be done in too little time with too few resources, you and your team probably miss things every day. Going through this planning process at least makes sure that the most important things will be taken care of.
Tie up any loose ends that are my responsibility and assign someone to be my proxy.
Part of my job is to clear the way for my teams so that they can keep moving forward. I’ll want to make sure that I’m not the bottleneck to their progress. During the week before I go on vacation, I’ll be dedicating a lot of my time to the closing the loop on their help requests.
While I’m away, it’s inevitable that some decisions will need to be made in order to resolve issues that come up. So that I’m not getting calls, texts, and emails about these things that can’t wait until I get back, I empower someone to be my proxy.
I send out a note to my core team saying something like:
While I’m out of the office, I authorize so and so to make any decisions on my behalf that can’t wait until I get back. Whatever decisions she makes will have my full support when I return. If it’s something urgent and important enough, I will take calls from her to help resolve it.
I also set expectations of people outside of my organization with an automatic reply through my email provider. Here’s what it usually looks like:
Hi, I’ll be out of office from (insert start date) until (insert end date). During this time, I’ll have limited to no access to email or phone.
In order to resolve your needs in my absence, please contact the leaders below:
- (Insert area name), (insert name of area leader), (insert leader contact information)
- Body wash packaging area, Joe Leader, (555) 555-5555
The overall single point of contact for my department is Jane Leader. Her contact information is (444) 444-4444. I authorize Jane to make any decisions on my behalf that can’t wait until I return.
Most things will probably be able to wait but by taking care of these simple things, you won’t be the obstacle for progress.
Clear out my paper and electronic inboxes.
The push for sustainability through greener ways of doing business has helped with paper clutter. Even so, each week I’m still having to clear out my paper inbox. Add that to email and it can easily overwhelm. The best way to prevent this is to develop a good rhythm of keeping both inboxes cleared out—every week at the minimum. Here’s something I learned from a course I took called “5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity” by Franklin Covey that allows me to quickly clear my inboxes.
When you’re clearing out your inbox, you take each item through this workflow:
- First, decide if it’s important.
- If not, toss it in the recycle bin or hit delete.
- If it is, make a decision on if it’s something you file or if you need to act on it.
- If it requires your action and it takes no more than a couple minutes, do it now.
- If it’s longer, then set an appointment with yourself or with people who need to be involved.
Try doing this more often than not so that the items in your inbox don’t overstay their welcome.
Stay present for the experience and the people who are enjoying it with me.
Here’s a photo of me and my family during a recent trip to Glacier National Park. Who wouldn’t want to be 100% there with this group of goofballs?
That’s me in the red. One younger brother is wearing a blanket under a breast cancer fundraising shirt because he didn’t bring a jacket… and apparently he’s gone cross-eyed from all the fun. The other brother looks like he’s had his fill of family time. My mom and dad just happen to make the exact same face. And my wife looks like a photo-bombing weirdo.
See the sights. Have a great time with who you’re with!
Build in time to catch up on things when I get back.
The day I come back to work used to give me heart palpitations. Not because I didn’t like work but because I knew I’d be jumping back into the whirlwind and be super behind.
Since then, I’ve learned that jumping back into the whirlwind on the first day back is not necessary. It’s been better to schedule a few meetings with key members of my group to get caught up, screen for the most important emails/messages, and plan my week ahead.
Most of the time, I come back to a smoothly running business. And even when I’ve come back to a bit of a crisis, I’ve found that it never helps to freak out and run around in a frenzy.
Creating a good rhythm between rest and play doesn’t stifle my momentum—it builds it.
Just like how you wouldn’t find it acceptable to watch Netflix or play Candy Crush at work, you shouldn’t accept having to work while you’re on your next getaway.
In a world where being at home no longer means being off of work. It’s ever more important to take a real vacation.
Thanks for reading!