It Will Be There When You Return: A Guide to Taking Vacation Days

All too often I run across colleagues who are supposed to be on vacation but are often still working. How do I know they are working? Because they are sending me work-related emails while on “vacation!” My favorite is when someone tells me they are going on vacation, but they plan to continue checking email and keep in touch with work because they do not want to come back to an overflowing inbox. In the age of constant connectivity, we feel that we must be connected to our work at all times and be ready to respond or resolve issues just moments after they appear on our device. This constantly-connected state will at some point cause issues with family and friends during non-work hours, and more especially when we are supposedly on vacation.

It is possible to disconnect from work and actually have a vacation! I know this because I have done it several times. “Vacation” can be as simple as taking two days off of work to stay at home.

Vacation is extremely important! It allows us to break free of work and the daily grind. It allows us to do things that we enjoy and provides an excellent opportunity to spend time with family and friends (or even just get some “me” time). Time off helps prevent burn out and provides rest for the body and the mind.

For me, when I have taken even just a few days off work and truly stayed away from any and all work, I come back ready to tackle things. I find myself with more of a “can do” positive attitude, and my productivity and creativity are much higher. Simply put, I am on task and enjoying my job.

Here is what I have found to be successful when I can take a few days off or even take a real vacation while leaving work behind.

Planning

  • With the proper planning, you have a better chance of nothing major happening while you are away for a few days or a week or so.   
  • Rely on the team. You work with great people who should be more than willing to step up and take care of things while you are gone. The expectation is that you will do the same for them while they are on vacation.
  • Communicate to those who you work closely with that you plan to be gone certain dates. Repeat as often as necessary and go as far as adding it to their calendars so they know you are going to be gone. This will decrease the likelihood of last-minute action items landing in your inbox. This helps those you work with prepare for you being out of the office and also serves as an internal reminder that you are going to take time off. Note: if you are going on some exotic trip, try your best not to gloat about it. I mean, you are relying on the team to help you while you are gone.  🙂

Scheduling

  • Prepare your calendar so that you are not involved in any meetings or new action items in the 1 to 2 days before you are scheduled to be out of the office. You do not want to start something that you know you will not be able to finish before vacation. Before your time off, try to clear as many items off your “to-do” list as possible.
  • Work on a “to do” list for when you return from vacation. Map out your plan of attack for when you return to work. If there are critical things you need to complete the first or second day back, put them on your list.  
  • Remember that you are not going to be checking email while on vacation, so you need to schedule a time to review email. You might as well schedule that first on your returning “to do” list since you are going to be nosey about what you missed while you were gone.
  • Other things you can do on those 1 to 2 days while waiting for vacation: clean up your inbox, read work-related articles you have been planning to read, and tidy up your desk. In other words, work on those small items that always get moved to the bottom of your “to-do” list. The goal is not to create or generate any action items that you will be thinking about the first few days away from the office.

Leaving

  • As you are ready to depart work for vacation, take the time to disable the sync of your email on your devices. If you still might be tempted to check, delete the email app off your devices or delete your work email from your devices. If you think you still might be tempted, have the IT guy change your password to some random password and give it to you when you return.
  • The key to leaving work behind while on vacation is to distance yourself from the temptation to check on work. Email on devices makes it so easy. True story, I removed my work Google account from my phone a couple of years ago as I left the office on vacation.  Soon after doing so, I received a text. Since I had removed the account, I did not have contact information, so I did not know who the text was from. Oh well, I was on vacation! It was still there when I returned to work.

Back to Reality

  • Admit right now that you will not get caught up on your first or second day back to work.
  • When you return to work after vacation, find that “to do” list you created before vacation. Start working your way through the list.  
  • If “check email” is first on the list, then scan through your entire inbox to get an idea of what you missed. As you come across action items that are easy to resolve, go ahead and do them. Remember, you have a “to-do” list of things you already noted before vacation, so do not forget those items. They are important! Do not get lost in your inbox when there are more important things waiting.
  • You are going to be interrupted your first day back. People will want to know about your vacation. They will want to tell you about what you missed, and they may even have action items for you. Remember, you are refreshed and ready to tackle everything that comes your way!   
  • You might wait until lunch to share your vacation highlights with coworkers. If anyone has action items for you, simply add them to your “to do” list.

Written by DJ Hanen