Switching off completely, swaying palm trees, the sand between your toes—you’ve been dreaming about this moment for months. But do you always find yourself feeling like you’ve got so much on your plate before you leave that you’re never going to get through it all in time? And once you’ve got to your destination, does it just seem like you’re spending all your time recuperating rather than actually enjoying your vacation? Should you be canceling that ticket to Bangkok, Santorini, or Barcelona? Are you thinking about putting off that trip to the countryside? Don’t! Have faith. Prepare for your break wisely—and well in advance—by following a few golden rules.
1. Loosen up
Breathe in your through your nose for four seconds and out through your mouth for eight. Repeat. Begin preparing for your vacation by getting rid of that excess stress that pushes you to run around and do 15 things at once. You’ll only end up complicating things and making a mess of what needs to be done. Relax, get a cup of coffee, and keep reading.
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2. Make a to-do list
Some people use a handy notebook or Post-its, and they’re great—if you actually go back and read them. Others use apps such as Todoist, Toodledo, Trello, or Bubblz, which have the added bonus that you’re able to share your list with your coworkers. Whatever you choose to go with, get to work on that to-do list now. You’ll be able to pinpoint and clearly see the work that needs to be completed before you leave. It’s the best way of staying on top of things and saving you time in the long run. Here are some more to-do tips:
- Rank your tasks according to their importance and priority before you leave, and establish a time frame for each project.
- Put the most urgent and time-consuming things to accomplish at the top of the list.
After that, make a note of the important tasks that you are skilled at, because they will take less time.
- Put those little things that you can put off until after you get back at the bottom of the list, just in case you run out of time. Although the idea is to get everything done before you leave, of course.
Try to get through as much work as possible before you leave, but be honest with yourself, and don’t put tasks on your list that you know you won’t be able to finish in time.
3. Make a vacation schedule
“I’m leaving mid-July, Martina is off at the end of August, John—I’m not actually sure what he said now.”
Create a detailed vacation schedule for your team so that everyone is clear about everyone else’s movements and you don’t end up getting multiple calls to find out where you are. Also, be clear about what your availability is going to be while you’re away: Can you be contacted if there’s an emergency or should your coworkers forget you exist for two weeks? Are there any times when you will be easier to reach?
4. Bring your team together and delegate
When you are clear about the status of your projects, about a week ahead of your departure, bring your team together for a meeting. Explain where you are with each task, what might happen while you’re away, and how to respond. This will give them a good idea of what to expect. Then see who feels they could step in as needed for each project. Once these tasks have been distributed, confirm the details in writing and share this with the team. For each project, the memo should contain:
- The name of the person who is taking over the task.
- The project deadline.
- A contact name for the possible customer or service provider.
- A summary of the things to be done.
Don’t forget to send an email to your regular contacts to let them know who will be taking your place while you’re gone. Also, remember to ask the person standing in for you to make a note of what was done while you were away, and what still needs to be done when you return.
5. Tidy up
Nothing is as good for helping you to get your bearings as a bit of spring cleaning. A good tidy-up helps you take stock and be clear on what needs to be done before you leave, and having an organized workspace makes it much more pleasant to return.
First, throw out all those useless bits of paper—scribbled-on Post-its, illegible drafts, old notebooks, restaurant menus from the place up the street (you know what you order from them by now anyway). Next, open those drawers and get sorting those files, important documents, business cards. Then, focus on your computer: Clean up the desktop, organize your folders. Lastly, make sure all of the important files you want to find immediately when you return are somewhere safe and easy to access.
6. Let your contacts know
Before you leave, don’t forget to let your contacts know you’re going to be away and move any meetings to when you’re back. There’s nothing worse than waking up with a jolt somewhere totally isolated from the real world after remembering that you forgot to reschedule a vital customer visit. Also, make sure you set-up a short, professional, automatic-response email so that your customers will be reminded you’re not available if they try to contact you. Double check what you’ve written (spelling errors in messages sent to your entire contact list are bad form), and avoid jokes and emoticons.
7. Make sure you switch off completely
The most important projects have been wrapped up, trusted coworkers are looking after the ongoing ones, and your contacts and customers know you are gone. Excellent. All that’s left to do is walk out that office door as free as a bird and leave it all behind while you’re on vacation. It’s crucial to unplug, in the true sense of the word. To do this, empty your head of any work issues you’ve been preoccupied with, leave your laptop at home, and put your cell phone in your hotel-room safe during the day. Take advantage of your well-deserved break to get some exercise, eat well, and laugh a lot. In short, focus on you, your well-being, and your family/vacation companion. This is the best way to recharge your batteries ready for your return.
8. Organize your return
To avoid any stress and chaos when you return to work, prepare the items you know will be the most urgent when you return. Update your calendar with the events and deadlines to meet. Schedule a meeting with your team the day after you get back (or even on the same day if you need to do that to get up to speed) to go over what has been done while you were away and what needs to be done now.
And then, to make sure you don’t fall into a no-more-sun, no-more-fun slump, set the stage ahead of time: Hide a few bars of chocolate in a drawer, plan lunch with a friend, order flowers for yourself to be delivered the morning you are back in the office (no, it is not pitiful to pamper yourself like that). In short, make your return easier.
And there you are, all ready to leave for your stress-free vacation. With a little organization, it’s possible to achieve anything. All you need to do now is zip up your carry-on. And don’t forget to update your Instagram and send a postcard to the office. Showing off to coworkers is always a great feeling. Bon voyage!
Photograph by WTTJ
Translated by Mary Wagonner-Moritz
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