Do you have summer vacation plans? If not, you may be one of the 47% of Americans who do not take all of their vacation time.
Why don’t we take a vacation when studies show that taking time off from work, and work-related emails, lowers levels of fatigue and job burnout? We know that if we come back rested from vacation, we tend to perform better at solving problems and other creative tasks. Despite the benefits, many of us never seem to make the time to get away.
During my last few years in the State Department, I had a tradition of taking several weeks off every winter and summer. Just before I left for a vacation, I started planning my next one. This way I would always be planning and looking forward to a trip. This tradition did wonders for my resilience and work productivity.
Here are some tips on how you can ensure you are taking regular vacations:
Plan ahead: Get approval for your leave and block vacation days on your calendar six months or more in advance. Buy your plane ticket and make reservations. This way when your vacation comes around, you have no excuse to postpone or cancel. Waiting for the right time to take a break rarely works since it’s never a good time.
Prepare your backup: Having a well-briefed, reliable backup is essential to taking leave. Trust your backup to act on your behalf while you’re gone. If you’re a manager, give explicit authority to the acting manager to make decisions and keep the team moving. Don’t second guess your backup once you return to the office. So what if you would have done it differently or even better – giving someone authority gives you freedom. It’s worth it.
Don’t check your emails: I used to check my emails every morning while on vacation, rationalizing that this kept me from feeling overwhelmed by emails on my first day back in the office. The problem with this practice is that I then never really disconnected. My backup wasn’t empowered to act since she knew I was checking in daily. And, I never got a real break because I started my day thinking about the office and that thinking lingered through the day. To avoid an email back-log, set aside a few hours or even a full day at the end of your vacation to tackle your inbox.
Communicate expectations: Draw clear boundaries and communicate these to your colleagues. Let your staff know that you will not check your emails while on leave. Instead, provide a phone number for dire emergencies (define emergency). Let your team know that you’ve given your backup authority to act on your behalf. Inform your boss that you will not be available except in an emergency and convey your confidence in your backup. Leave an out-of-office message stating that you will not be checking your emails, whom to contact in your absence, and that it will take several days to review emails upon your return.
Consider a staycation: Vacations do not have to be expensive, elaborate events. Some of my favorite breaks from work have been the times I stayed home and explored my city.
Enjoy your vacation: With work out of the way, enjoy your leave. Spend time with friends and family, pursue a passion, or do nothing. Let your mind go wherever it takes you and if it takes you to work from time to time, shift your thoughts somewhere else. You’ll be thankful you took a real vacation once you return to the office refreshed and resilient. And, if you’re a manager, you’ll set an excellent example, for your staff to follow.
Start planning your summer vacation now. You’ll be happy you did!