Does the thought of 'spring break' or vacation cause you grief? Taking a vacation is a great way to relax, recharge and rejuvenate, but it can also be a source of stress for some people. Whether it's the preparation for leaving work or the stress of catching up when you return, the whole experience can be overwhelming. It doesn't have to be this way. That's why taking steps to reduce stress before you go on vacation and after you return is important. Here are some things you can do to help! If you've seen them before, it might still be worth a skim through as a reminder.
Just recently, having the opportunity to take a vacation with my family reminded me how stressful a vacation can be, unfortunately. With the official “spring break” quickly approaching, I thought some might find a refresh of a previous article helpful and timely. In today's world of always being connected and the ongoing expectations and demands placed on us in our work lives, it can be difficult for many to get away on vacation easily. Then there is the mess when we return! The result too often is that the week before we leave is high stress, and the week we return is brutal! Then there is the time we are actually off on vacation. Regardless of whether we can disconnect while away, the first few days can be tough as we de-stress from the week before, and then a few days before the end of the vacation, we begin to think of what awaits our return, and the stress and anxiety ramps up.
To help a little, I've refreshed and re-posted some information from previous posts that may help.
Before you go:
- NEW: "Upcoming vacation alert. Approximately a week in advance of your vacation, add a line to your email signature that says "Upcoming vacation alert: <start date> to <end date>." It's a good practice to use a red coloured font so it is highly noticeable. Adding this to your signature will help reduce your colleagues' surprise to learn on your last day that you'll be away, which will reduce last minute requests, and reduce disappointments and even frustrations when they contact you to learn for the first time that you're already gone.
- PRO TIP: Block off your last & first day. When in your calendar to schedule your vacation, block off the last day (at least half the day, if not the full day) before you go and the first day you return. Leading up to your vacation, be very selective about what meetings you book on those last and first days if any. This allows you time to clear your inbox, ensure delegation is set up, take care of any priorities that need to be looked after when you are gone, and gives you time to deal with the inevitable last-minute pre-vacation “crisis” that surely will pop up.
- Assign a delegate. Of course, you will appoint a delegate to look after your most important responsibilities. However, read through this for some subtle tips. Advise your team who the delegate is and how to contact them. Turn on your out-of-office notification and put this contact information in the notification so that when others beyond your team try to contact you, they will realize you are out of the office and will know whom to contact should they need to do so, rather than wait for your return. The less you have to deal with when you return, the better! It’s also a good opportunity to develop your delegate. Be sure to provide clear instructions and expectations for your delegate.
- With enough advanced planning for your vacation, you can have the delegate shadow you to certain meetings or even take on some of the more critical or complex responsibilities. This reduces their stress and gives them the support they need before going solo.
- Be selective about emergency contact information. It's important to disconnect from work while on vacation, but there may be some situations where you need to be contacted. Determine if and to whom you want to provide your contact information should an urgent or emergency occur. Be certain to select someone you trust with your contact information that will really scrutinize contacting you. Leave your cell phone number or contact information regarding where you will be staying. This may or may not be your assigned delegate. Let your team know you are not checking or responding to emails or texts while you are gone. Be sure to provide clear instructions on what constitutes an urgent matter or emergency.
- PRO TIP: Top issues summary. Leave instructions with your team to summarize key issues or problems you need to know about or where they need your help immediately upon your return. If you have an assistant they can consolidate all these items in one email and send it to you just before you return. You can assign this to your delegate if you don’t have an assistant. The intent here is that this shortlist will allow you to quickly focus on the most important items immediately upon your return rather than trying to sort through all your emails or reacting as things are brought to your attention somewhat randomly throughout the first day back at work.
- Take care of yourself. In the days leading up to your vacation, prioritize self-care activities like exercise, meditation, or spending time with loved ones. This will help you manage stress and anxiety and enjoy your vacation fully.
- Set boundaries. Setting personal boundaries while on vacation is essential to ensure that you can disconnect and recharge. It's important to communicate your vacation plans and expectations with colleagues and clients beforehand, such as letting them know that you'll be out of the office and not responding to work-related messages or calls during this time. If you need to check in occasionally, schedule a specific time slot and limit your availability outside of it. Additionally, it's helpful to disconnect from technology and avoid checking work emails or messages during non-work hours. By setting personal boundaries, you can ensure a well-deserved break and return to work re-energized and focused.
Many of us never really leave work while on vacation. Or, don’t leave it long enough to disengage to maximize the many benefits of our vacations and enjoy it!
Here are a few reminders of why it's a good idea to disengage while on vacation:
- Revitalization - When we clear our minds of work, we can gain a different and often better perspective. Our brains will continue working on problems and challenges in the background and developing new ideas or solutions. Relaxing revitalizes us, allowing our subconscious to be creative.
- Development opportunities - Delegating and/or empowering your team members with your responsibilities is a great development opportunity for them. This also allows you to assess better and evaluate their readiness and capabilities for future progressive roles. In addition to the growth opportunities, your delegate evaluates aspects of your role. This can be a good thing or a bad thing for you, but always good for them!
- Respect - This is multi-directional. By your team not contacting you and allowing you to disengage, not only are they respecting your time, but you are respecting them by showing your confidence and trust in them. It also sets the example for when they go on vacation; they are not expected to check in or be reachable when away because they realize you will respect their time off and need to disengage.
- A better time - If you can disengage, you and your family will have a better time. Also, those back at work will as well. No one likes to contact someone while on vacation!
- Family - Your family deserves an uninterrupted vacation as much as you, sometimes more! They also want and deserve your full attention. They will know when you're thinking of work, and you won't be able to give them your full attention.
- Health - Everyone needs some downtime. No one is superhuman and can go full steam ahead indefinitely. To live a longer, healthier life, you must take some downtime and disengage.
To sum it up with the adage,
"No one on their deathbed ever said, 'I wish I'd spent more time at the office."
Don't wait until then to figure this out!
- PRO TIP: Prioritize based on the summary of issues. Review the consolidated list from your team of the urgent matters they need your immediate assistance with. Use this list to set your priorities for your first day back. Schedule urgent meetings or phone calls as necessary to address these issues. You blocked out your first day…this is one of the reasons why. Use some of this blocked time to address these urgent matters.
- Delegate Check-in. Check-in with your delegate to see how things went and if there is anything you need to know about or follow up on. It is important to find out what actions you need to make, what commitments they made on your behalf, or what’s outstanding that needs your attention. It’s also a respectful thing to do. Ask your delegate what they learned from the experience, what they liked and didn’t like, and what they would do differently next time. It’s also an opportunity for you to give them feedback on how they did with the delegation. Delegation should provide a development opportunity for the delegate, so having this reflection conversation is critical to maximizing their development and learning opportunities.
- PRO TIP: Email vacation holding file. Instead of trying to catch up on all your emails while you were off, create a “Vacation holding” file within your email and move all the emails received while you were gone, other than the last 1-2 days, to this file. Then sort through and process the remaining emails from the last 1-2 days. This will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed and allow you to focus on the most important emails first. If something comes up that you need to search through the emails in the vacation holding file, you have them available. After a week or so, if you haven’t found you need any emails from this folder you can go ahead and delete them.
- Reflection. Reflect on what worked well and what didn’t before, during, and after your vacation so you can tweak your vacation routine accordingly.
- PRO TIP: Book your next vacation NOW!
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Please share your vacation stress reducing tips in the comments!