It’s vacation time! Whether you’re planning an island getaway, a trek in the mountains, or an adventure close to home, the planning stages are half the fun. Research suggests that planning a vacation makes people as happy as going on one.
Unfortunately, most people don’t enjoy prepping for a vacation at work. In fact, 47% of Americans don’t take all their vacation days because it’s hard to get away from their jobs. More than a quarter (27%) of non-vacationers say they have too many projects or deadlines and 13% fear they’ll return to a mountain of work.
Don’t let work keep you from enjoying a vacation! Studies show taking vacations can help you relieve stress, improve your health, and even live longer. Read on for tips and checklists that will help you prepare for being away and catch up when you get back.
Six Months Before Vacation
It’s too early to pack your flip flops or decide between lounging at the pool or sightseeing, but it’s the perfect time to get your vacation on your work calendar. First, find out how many vacation days you have and check in with family members’ and colleagues’ schedules. Then fill out your vacation request form. Specify the exact days you’d like to be away.
If you’re planning to travel a good distance, it’s a good idea to cushion your trip with a day off before and/or after your trip. This will give you time for last-minute packing and you’ll probably enjoy a smoother transition back to regular life, too.
Once you get the okay from your supervisor or human resources department, schedule your vacation on your digital and wall calendars. Make a list of any recurring deadlines, meetings, or appointments that would normally happen while you’re away. Reschedule or cancel them, and update your calendars accordingly.
Also, block off the morning you’ll return from your vacation on your work calendar. Reserve at least three to four hours for catching up on the inevitable backlog of correspondence.
A Month Before Vacation
Send an email to your supervisor, colleagues, and major clients letting them know (or reminding them) when you’ll be away. You don’t want clients to find out you’re on vacation from an out-of-office email.
Then it’s time to delegate some of your work to others while you’re on vacation so you don’t return to a mountain of work. While it’s not a wise choice to hand off all your work while you’re away, you may inevitably have some tasks or assignments that you can’t do ahead of time. Remember that it’s okay to ask for help. Determine one or more colleagues who may be willing to assist you while you’re away, and meet with them to plan ahead. Explain exactly what you need them to do, why they’re the best people for the job, and how you’re going to help them succeed (by providing them with written instructions and passwords, for instance).
Now, make a list of what you need to get done before you leave. Accept that you’re not going to complete every project on the list, and prioritize things. Break your priorities into small tasks and schedule deadlines for each one in your calendar. If you tend to procrastinate, self-imposed due dates may not be effective. Sit down with your boss to agree on deadlines, and you’ll be more likely to get the work done.
Remember, the more organized and caught up you are when you leave, the easier it will be to relax and recharge during your vacation.
A Week Before Vacation
Send another email to your supervisor, colleagues, and major clients to remind them when you’ll be away. State how often, if at all, you plan to communicate while you’re on vacation and what, if any, work you plan to do.
It’s okay to work a little on your vacation if you feel you have to. Just don’t leave your plans open-ended or vague. Tell people exactly when you’ll be available and for what types of communication. For instance, you may want to say, “I’ll be at this number in case of an emergency, and I’ll check my voicemails every evening.” But be sure to specify what you consider an emergency. You may not want to walk a colleague through refilling the copier toner, even if it feels like an emergency on his end.
If you don’t want to work while you’re away, don’t feel bad about that either. Simply say, “Please contact [insert name] with any questions or concerns at this number if needed. I’ll respond to correspondence within three days of returning from my trip.”
Once you clarify your communication guidelines, make a list of the projects you’re working on. Include the contact name and top priorities for each project, and any other pertinent information, such as instructions or passwords, that your colleagues need to fill in for you. Give a copy to your supervisor and to any relevant colleagues.
The Day Before Vacation
You’re almost there! Spend some time clearing your desk and organizing your files. And don’t forget to grab any old sandwiches or tubs of hummus from the work fridge while you’re at it. Check in with colleagues who’ll be filling in for you, and pass on any last-minute passwords or instructions.
Finally, set your out-of-office email autoresponder and record a new out-of-office voicemail. Include the dates you’ll be away, the contact information for the person filling in for you, and the date you expect to reply to emails.
Now, walk away! Ditch any guilt you may have about taking a vacation. Remember, vacations are good for your health and your company. More than three quarters (78%) of supervisors agree that vacations improve employees’ focus and 81% agree vacations alleviate burnout.
The Day You Return from Vacation
Hopefully you gave yourself an extra day to get caught up at home. Plan to get to work early on your first day back at the office. But don’t turn off your out-of-office voicemail and email until at least the afternoon or maybe even the next day. This will give you time to get caught up before resuming your regular routine.
Spend a little time catching up with your coworkers. Then, before you do anything else, start a to-do list where you’ll write down anything that needs action.
Sort any mail or incoming papers stacked on your desk. Then, focus on your backlog of email and voicemails. Warning: Your email inbox will probably be scary. Follow these tips to get caught up on email quickly after a vacation.
- Set a timer to remind yourself to take breaks and stretch or walk around every 30 minutes or so. (Remember, vacations should leave you feeling replenished, not overwhelmed).
- Delete any advertising, newsletters, or unnecessary emails.
- Sort your inbox by sender (instead of date) and read any emails sent by priority clients or colleagues first.
- Reply to and delete emails immediately whenever possible.
- Start a “Needs action” folder and move any emails you can’t delete but can’t immediately reply to there. (Also write down action items on your to-do list).
- Start an “Awaiting reply” folder and move any email threads you want to keep track of there.
- Start a “Vacation archives” folder for any low-priority emails you don’t want to delete.
- If you find yourself typing the same reply repeatedly, create a canned response, which is a pre-written answer to a frequently asked question. (It’s easy to set up automated canned responses in Gmail. Look for a tutorial online. If you use another email client, you can save canned responses in a word processing program and copy and paste them as needed).
Once you tackle your email, take a look at your calendar for the next week and reacquaint yourself with what’s coming up. Then, check in with your colleagues about how things went while you were away. Now you can turn off your out-of-office voicemail and email if you want, but consider leaving them on all day if you feel overwhelmed.
Chances are you’ll have a sizable to-do list. Work through it methodically, take breaks, and go home at your usual time. And don’t forget to close your eyes occasionally and remember the highlight reel from your vacation. Before you know it, you’ll be booking another one.
Far too many Americans don’t take all their vacation days, even though vacations are an important way to relieve stress and prevent job burnout. Use our tips to prepare for your next vacation and catch up when you get back, and your vacation will do exactly what it’s supposed to: refresh, recharge, and rejuvenate.