There's no better feeling than pulling out of the driveway to head out for your summer vacation. Just as potent as the excitement is the feeling of relief because the past few weeks of making it to this moment have felt like a herculean effort.
Preparing for time away from the office is no easy task. But it's integral to having a few real days that allow you to simultaneously unplug and recharge. It's no wonder that so many people don't use their vacation days – because if you don't plan well, getting to the actual vacation part can feel like a massive challenge.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
By preparing your work for your vacation, you can mitigate much of the stress involved with both leaving and returning to the office. Here are five key strategies for getting to vacation without too much stress or guilt:
Communicate early and often to your team about vacation.
As tempting as it might be to pull a Houdini and disappear for a week without calling attention to the fact your vacation has been approved and on the team calendar for months, we all know it doesn't quite work like that. You must communicate even earlier than you think and remind the people you work with often – both colleagues and clients.
Productivity expert Carson Tate suggests being very specific with about your vacation time. "First, as early as possible, let your team know your vacation plans – departure and arrival – as in when you'll be out of the office and offline, and when you're officially back," she says. "Then, several days before departure, let the appropriate people know the status of any projects that impact them and the respective contingency plans for each project." This will give your colleagues and partners the clarity they need, and it will hopefully give you permission to enjoy yourself once you're away.
Prioritize projects that may give you anxiety on vacation.
As they say, Rome will always be be burning. And you will always have more on your list to do. When it comes to vacation, however, at some point you must accept that some things will have to be a giant push to finish before you leave. And some things simply will not get done before you go. Tate says to identify three to five projects and/or tasks in the time leading up to vacation. “Focus solely on the 'must be' completed, not the 'like to' or 'want to' complete," she says. By clearly prioritizing your work, you'll know where to focus your (limited) energy and time before you go.
Let key contacts know you're away and who to go to instead.
Communication about your vacation isn't limited to people within your office walls. Key contacts you work with consistently, either externally or within other departments, is important, as well. You can use this touchpoint with key contacts to your advantage. "Summer is a perfect time to send them a mid-year check-in or greeting to update them on the status of their projects and identify their point of contact while you are away. Let them know if you will be checking in while you are away and what your designated 'office hours' will be," Tate says. There's nothing like hitting 17 birds with one stone!
Don't make yourself too available (and level set ahead of time).
Vacation is meant to be time where you can fully unplug. But if you're not careful, it can turn into even more stress because you're not upholding your boundaries for being really, truly out of the office. Hopefully, you will not work while on vacation. However, if you anticipate that being fully off the grid isn't a possibility, then Tate suggests designating “office hours" when your teams and clients know you'll be checking in. “Be clear and stick to your word, so that next time vacation or holidays come around, those who need to get in touch with you will respect the fact that you do what you say you do when it comes to email and checking in," she says.
Create a master task list for things you need to do on the first day of work.
Anything you didn't accomplish before you leave should be noted with the immediate next action step that is needed from you on the day you return. It'll make that first day back a lot less brutal because you'll know exactly where your attention and energy needs to go (rather than spending days digging out of your inbox). Speaking of that first day back, plan accordingly.
"Before you leave for vacation, block the first morning and, if possible, the whole first day you are back in the office to collect, process and organize emails, return phone calls, connect with colleagues and get clear and current. You'll be able to create a master task list with fresh eyes and that post-vacation perspective," Tate says.
Maxie McCoy is a writer and speaker with a message: how to find and follow your inspiration for an extraordinary life. Maxie delivers inspiring writings, actionable video, and customized sessions on maxiemccoy.com. She also develops curriculum and offline experiences for the Millennial career website, Levo.