Taking time to unplug from work is essential to our well-being. Yet many of us treat time off like a luxury. We often feel guilty before, during and after taking time for ourselves.
Our inner critic might tell us we only deserve time off when we push ourselves to the brink of burnout. Or “vacations are only for people who are not important to their organizations” and “VPs and C-suite executives are too important to leave for an entire week.”
Our inner critic might tell us something even worse: Vacations are only for people who are “lazy.” This mindset causes burnout! When we neglect the normal human need for down time, this mindset leads to exhaustion, depletion and burnout.
But even when we do make time for vacation, if we aren’t careful, we’ll come back anything but rested or refreshed. Why? Because if we’re responding to emails and taking calls during our time off, have we actually left the office? At that point, why not be there? You are in a new location with the same old stress.
After taking some much needed vacation time myself, I realized a few helpful tips to prepare you for your time “off the grid.”
1. Set a vacation intention.
Ask yourself some clarifying questions. How do you want to feel during your vacation? What will support you in feeling that way? How do you want to feel upon returning? Asking these questions at first might feel strange, but getting clear on your vacation vision is the first step towards making the most of it.
2. Write down your needs and wants and do a reality check.
Focus on what the top two or three must see or do things are for your vacation: Want to nap in a hammock by the ocean? Visit a certain museum? Read a book cover to cover? Hike a special trail? You decide what’s most important to you. After, check in and make sure your plans are doable. If not, figure out what you can do to make those aspirations happen before you leave. If you’re traveling with a friend, partner or kids, sharing your ideal vacation vision is important for success. For example, you can decide to hire a nanny for a few hours one day or you and your partner could cover for each other so the other can make sure they meet their top needs.
3. Set device rules and limits.
Since we associate our phones and computers with our work and the demands of our daily lives, taking a break from screen time can be helpful. Set some ground rules for device time while on vacation. I left my phone in our hotel room for certain parts of the day, so I wouldn’t check my phone was easiest for me. If that feels too extreme, you could always experiment with bringing your phone with you but powering the device off. Either way, witnessing your reaction to leaving your phone behind and noticing what comes up for you when you’re out of reach is enlightening. If you are nervous about leaving your phone behind, try this short self-compassion meditation to ease your anxiety before you disconnect in full.
4. Set expectations and your out of office message.
Having conversations up front with your coworkers is important. Tell them about your vacation and plans to be off the grid so they can all create a plan for when you’re gone. Some of us avoid these uncomfortable conversations. We fear others will view us as irresponsible for being unavailable. We are uncomfortable when we’re not “doing” and being “productive.” Avoiding these conversations is a surefire way to get yourself in trouble. You will end up working, instead of relaxing, on your vacation. If any guilt around your vacation comes up, acknowledge the sensation. See if you can soothe the discomfort with a short self-compassion break. Remember, you deserve to take time to rest and rejuvenate. Everyone around you will benefit by getting the rested and refreshed version of you.
5. Build in time for reflection.
Being in a different environment can help spark new ideas, offering the blank space needed to reflect on the ways you might want to enhance your life. You can take time to journal about where you’d like to be in your life in five years, or follow a more structured format such as this mini Clarity Course to get clear on what you’d like to create in your life.
6. Practice gratitude.
If left unchecked and on autopilot, our mind will find something wrong in any situation. You can thank the negativity bias programmed into our mind thousands of years ago to help us survive. Even when we’re on vacation and all should be dandy, we’re not above this biological programming. Taking time with intention to cultivate gratitude is as important on vacation as it is at home. One way I love to practice gratitude is by “savoring the good.” Take an extra few moments to soak in positive experiences. Relish in memorable small pleasures like watching the sun rise or the feeling of soaking in a hot tub. This guided savoring practice can help you soak in a positive experience from the past. This practice can strengthen the mental muscle needed to override negativity bias.
7. Make space for reintegration.
If at all possible, give yourself a little breathing room at the end of your vacation to reintegrate before sprinting back into the demands of work. Take a moment. What did you notice about your time away? What might benefit you to incorporate into your life? What would allow yourself to “reset” on a daily basis versus only on vacation?
Lastly, penciling in your next vacation so you have something on the calendar to look forward to can be very helpful.