How to Take the
Stress Out of Taking Time Off by Elizabeth Grace Saunders. August
you ever questioned whether taking time off is worth it because the stress of
preparing for a vacation is so high?
so, you’re not alone. Over half of Americans leave some vacation time on the table. Some of
the reasons for the lack of vacations include feeling that their workload was
too heavy or that no one could do their job while they were gone.
a time management coach, I’ve observed that pre-vacation work stress typically
falls into two buckets: completing work before your departure and being away
from the office. Both of these categories can trigger guilt and even fear. Many
people worry that if they’re not always available, something horrible will
happen at work: What if once I’m out, someone notices I haven’t made
progress on a project? What if something falls through the cracks? What if a
client needs me? What if people think I’m a bad person for taking time off if
I’m not completely on top of my work?
fears can stop some people from taking vacation entirely — and for others, it
causes them to engage in unhelpful behaviors, including attempting to get all
their extra work done before they leave, or working throughout their vacation,
rather than delegating or delaying projects. In the first case, you could find
yourself overstressed and sleep deprived, and in the second, you could end up
resentful for being physically away but mentally still at work.
it’s difficult to remove all stress as you plan to head out of the office, the
following strategies can help reduce your headache and set yourself up for
success once you return.
correctly, going on a vacation can offer a tremendous incentive to get projects
done — but you need to plan for it. If you intend to take a week or more
out of the office, put a meeting with yourself on your calendar for three to
four weeks prior to your departure date. During that planning time, get clear
on must-do activities prior to splitting from the office. Then think about
time weeks before your departure allows you to honestly assess your workload
while you still have time to do something about it. If you’re struggling to
prioritize when you’re still three to four weeks out from vacation, ask
yourself what you would do if you only had one to two weeks before you left.
What you think of in this shorter time frame can become your priority
activities, while everything else falls within the would-like-to-do category.
block out time on your calendar to complete the must-do items. Make your
original plan to complete these items at least a week before you actually
leave, so you still have the ability to complete them even if unexpected items
come up (which they always do) or tasks take longer than expected. This week of
margin before your vacation gives you flexibility to address urgent items and
still wrap up.
No matter how good a job you do of getting work in order before heading out,
some items will likely need attention while you’re gone. If possible, see if a
colleague can take on that role for you so that you can have some real time
off. I recommend reaching out to your coworkers a week or more in advance to
make them aware of what you will need, such as taking care of a specific
responsibility or keeping an eye on certain projects. It will typically be
clear who is the best person to cover for you, such as a coworker who is
already on the same project. But when it’s not, talk with your boss to confirm
who would be best.
you’ve selected who can help, write up any deadlines and deliverables, as well
as contact information for key internal and external stakeholders, clients, and
yourself while you’re away. Sometimes you can explain all of this through
email, but often it’s best to have a meeting or at least a phone call to make
sure that you’re both clear on expectations. If necessary, do quick email
introductions between your stand-in and those involved in the work so that
there’s a clear handoff. Also, put an alternative contact in your voicemail
message and email auto-response when you go away. That way if anything
unanticipated comes up, someone knows whom to contact.
Once you’ve figured
out what you will do before leaving on vacation and what can be handled while
you’re away, clarify what you will not do until you return. I recommend
having a sense of this in your mind early. But wait until three or four days
before you leave to make the final call on what’s in or out. By then you should
be sure about what you can reasonably accomplish, and you can relay this
information to your boss, teammates, and anyone else involved in the work.
can be uncomfortable to have these conversations, but it’s almost always best
to be up front about what to expect instead of leaving people hanging who are
expecting something from you, and then having to deal with a mid-vacation
crisis caused by lack of communication. Update colleagues on the status of
projects and let them know that nothing will move forward until after you get
back in the office. Also, give key individuals the heads-up that you won’t be
available — or as available — during the time that you’re
Unplugging from work
for an extended period of time can make some people feel like hyperventilating.
And there may be good reasons why you check in with work while you’re away,
such as following up on a deal that’s about to close or responding to an
urgent, time-sensitive item. If you do decide to check in, set limits. For
example, you could spend one hour on work each morning and then stay away from
your computer for the rest of the day. Or you could ask a coworker to text you
the status of an important project so that you’re informed — but don’t have to
open your inbox and get sucked into work mode.
if you can truly unplug, do. There’s something wonderfully freeing about
realizing the world can and will keep turning without you. Being completely
disconnected from work has a plethora
of positive health benefits including lowered stress, improved
sleep, enhanced connections with others, and improved concentration and
creativity. I personally believe that completely stepping away from work for a
time gives us the gift of perspective. It helps us remember that our jobs
really can go on without us — at least for a while. And it reminds us of
the importance of life outside our work. This not only can make it less
stressful to disconnect the next time you take time off but can also help you
with day-to-day decisions like spending an evening at home on a weeknight
without checking work email.
taking a vacation easy? Not necessarily. But you can plan for your time away
more strategically to reduce a pre-holiday headache. Put a reminder in your calendar
now for four weeks before your next period of time out of the office, with a
note to refer back to this article. By following these strategies for
completing work and being away from the office, you can reduce the pre-vacation
stress and relax more once you’re away.