How I Successfully Planned to Take a Break From Work During My Vacation

Last week I took a 10-day Staycation, I often struggle to use all my allotted vacation days during the calendar year, but as one of my Mental Health Resolutions for 2018 I committed to myself that I would schedule and use my vacation days. One of the hardest parts of actually taking a break during your vacation is managing your time on the bookends.

In the past, I have spent the days (sometimes even the week) leading up to my vacation, racing around, cramming in over a week’s worth of work, and generally stressing out about how much work I wasn’t going to get done, while taking a break from work. And then, following my vacation I would spend days trying to get back into the groove, or so far into the deep end, that by the time I wrested control of my days I had burned through all the banked rest that I had just built up.

This year I was resigned to use the principles of my lighter life to fully enjoy my vacation without added stress or confusion, and to return to my desk not only rested and refreshed, but ready to face the task(s) at hand.

Disclaimer: I have the luxury of working with people who actually care about my wellbeing and believe that I am at my best when I have something in the tank, and many of our clients are at the point in their careers when they understand that sometimes you just need to slow down enough to let the ideas flow more freely.

The Week Before My Vacation: I clearly communicated to coworkers and clients, that I would be disconnecting during my vacation, I communicated the status of ongoing projects and the timeframe for completion upon my return.

The Day Before My Vacation: I spent the entire day setting up my first week back for success.

  • I cleaned my desk and filed or shredded loose papers – knowing I would be returning to a minimal and tidy work space reduced stress;
  • I addressed all non-essential email that was piling up in my inbox – newsletters I wanted to read, emails I had dealt with but never filed – in the end I achieved inbox zero on three inboxes and left 2 or 3 emails in the fourth (yes, I have four professional inboxes with 5 or 6 email addresses feeding into my outlook account);
  • I made a plan for my first day (and week) back in the office – I do this weekly on Fridays as I have a standing outlook appointment to “set next week up for success” – I evaluated the urgency of to-do list items and time-blocked them in my calendar accordingly (I use colour coding by client, but some people also choose to colour block by job function), Monday’s tasks being more important than Tuesday’s tasks and so forth. I further fought overwhelm by leaving my Friday free to create a buffer for tasks that got pushed back.

During My Vacation: I turned it all off, I didn’t check emails or phone messages from work, my lap-top and work phone remained stowed in my briefcase. I made a conscious effort to relax and was able to remind myself that I had spent time getting ready to go on vacation and had a plan for my re-entry into office life.

After My Vacation: On the final day of my vacation (last Sunday) I spent 10 minutes writing my “today list” a concept I’ve picked up from the Minimalists – what are the 3 or 4 things you must get done today, focus on those ignore the rest – I have been doing this on Friday’s each week, a “punch list” to close out the week, but have decided to try doing it daily to clear the clutter and prioritize; to fill out my “today” list I simply looked at the items on my to-do list from the day before my vacation and listed only those highlighted in yellow – which I knew I had time blocked for the first day back.

Its nice when everything falls relatively into place, the last two days have felt more productive than any in recent memory. I didn’t get more done in the day than any in recent memory, but I got the important and moderately urgent stuff done, plus because I had the Friday buffer in place I’ve been able to react to new items requiring my attention that have come up either while I was away or over the course of the last two days.

I encourage everyone to think about how we can set-up not only our work schedules, but our downtime schedules for more success.

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