In this day and technological age, most of us are equipped with all kinds of gadgets to keep us connected. We have smart phones that allow us to be contacted or make phone calls any time of day or night, and even check email at a moment's notice; our laptops and iPads make it possible to have our offices with us wherever we go. Technology makes us productivity machines.
Which, you know, is awesome. Except when it isn't.
The problem, of course, is when our smart phones and our laptops set the expectation with the people we work with or our clients that we are always accessible -- and let's face it, there are times when we don't want to be, like when we're on vacation. And if you think about it, you're owed that vacation -- in many employment situations, your vacation is part of your compensation package. You deserve to take it. Besides, enjoying your vacation to the fullest allows you to return to work ready to tackle all of its challenges with a brand new, fresh, renewed outlook.
So: while I can't promise that your colleagues or clients won't try to nag you while you're away getting some well-earned R&R, the following are my top tips for minimizing interference from people back home, maximizing my me-time on vacation, and avoiding ticking off my coworkers or clients in the process.
1. When I'm booking my vacation, I try to schedule my date of return at least 2 days before I actually have to be back to my office. Nothing is worse that returning from your vacation late the night before you have to wake up early to go to work. So I allow for at least a day at home in between to slowly transition back into my working life.
2. In anticipation of my trip, I tell my coworkers, colleagues and clients that I'll be traveling. I start tying up loose ends on matters that will be able to wait until after I return to address again, and if possible, I delegate any outstanding work to colleagues, in the event anything needs to be addressed in my absence. I let clients know that I'll be gone, but that their matters are being handled in my absence, and let them know who to contact should anything arise. But I always begin by setting the expectation that I will be unavailable for a brief time.
3. I make sure my automated out-of-office email responder is on. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but here's the trick: your responder should set the expectation that you will not be easily reachable (even if you will). I say something like, "I'm sorry to have missed you, but I will be traveling until X date, and will have extremely limited access to email. If this is urgent, in my absence please contact Y at ______ for immediate assistance. Otherwise, I'll respond to your email as soon as possible after my return." I might actually check in frequently on my vacation ... but they don't have to know that.
4. When I set my out-of-office email responder, I set it to turn off a day later than I'll actually be back in the office. This allows me to have a relatively quiet day back in the office, and I can get my head back into the working game before the phone starts ringing off the wall. If i get into the office and realize that I don't need the extra day, I'll turn it off early. But it's nice to have that cushion, just in case.
5. I tell only one person -- one I can trust -- how he can get a hold of me when I'm on vacation. Now that I've let everybody believe that I'm not going to be accessible, I divulge to one person how I can be contacted in an absolute emergency (e.g., a trusted assistant). Make it clear that you do not want to be bothered, and you will be checking your email once a day (or every other day), and will respond then if it's an emergency.
6. While on vacation, I turn my phone to silent. The temptation to answer a ringing phone is often overwhelming. So I don't listen to it ring. But ...
7. I check in after my day is done (or before my starts) -- bonus points if I do it during a time that I know no one is in the office to respond. I allow myself only 1 hour of the day to do this -- I just scan my emails and delete or archive the ones that don't need a response, respond quickly to the ones that need an immediate answer, and for those items that don't require an immediate answer, I mark them as "unread" and leave them in my inbox to deal with when I get back home. In this way, when I return to my office, my inbox won't be overwhelming, and I'll have a vague idea of what I need to deal with.
Now, admittedly, handling my vacation in this manner doesn't mean that my vacation is completely work-free. But it ensures that any guilt about being away from the office is mitigated, while still leaving 90% of my day to enjoy my family, a few good books, and feeling the sand between my toes. Furthermore, because I've properly set expectations with the people I work with, I return relatively sure that I've not disappointed anyone by being away. And I invariably have a much better outlook on life to tackle my work when I'm back in my office.
How about you? What tips and tricks do you have to make the most of your vacation?
* * * * * * * *