This Out-of-Office Checklist Will Help Ease Vacation Stress

Start with the perfect out-of-office message.

Courtesy of Chutima Chaochaiya / Shutterstock
Courtesy of Chutima Chaochaiya / Shutterstock

Few things can cause more stress during your well-deserved vacation time than knowing you will return to an overflowing inbox or an endless to-do list. Time off is meant for unplugging and recharging, but giving yourself permission to do so (and not feeling guilty about it) can be tough when there’s unfinished business at work.

Taking a few moments before you go to tie up loose ends in a strategic way will make your out-of-office time far less stressful, and ensure that you can ease into your first day back feeling recharged. The next time you are headed out on vacation, use this checklist to prepare for your getaway and your first day back at the same time.

Craft a thrivey out-of-office message 

Out-of-office messages are often short, sweet, and to the point, but it’s worth putting more thought into them to save ourselves (and our colleagues) extra stress. Vivian Garcia-Tunon, an executive coach and human resources leader, tells The New York Times that the wording of your out-of-office message will largely depend on your industry, company culture, and audience. Garcia-Tunon recommends asking your manager or colleagues about what your company considers to be an appropriate response, in order to avoid drama and ensure your message aligns with your company’s values.

When crafted thoughtfully, your out-of-office message can show that you are performance-focused, while still cognizant of the importance of well-being (and its link to productivity). A simple way to do this is by including a statement about your intentions to unplug and recharge, and identifying a point of contact in case someone needs to get in touch. A message that captures both of these sentiments might look like this: “Thank you for your note, but I’m currently unavailable as I’ll be unplugging and recharging in [detail]. While I spend my time [detail] instead of looking at screens, you can reach out to [name] at [email] or [phone number].” 

Identify a second in command 

When you are on vacation, you likely won’t want to (and definitely shouldn’t) allow email to eat up your time. It can be tempting to look at your inbox, but allowing yourself to take time off from workplace communication has a multitude of benefits, and what better time to do so than when you’re on vacation? A 2018 study from Virginia Tech showed that expectations to check email during non-work hours can result in stress and anxiety, and as Katie Denis, the chief of research and strategy for the Project: Time Off initiative, writes for Harvard Business Review, “Every email sent by a vacationing employee is a tiny cultural erosion: a signal to other employees that time off isn’t really time off.” To eliminate any communication-related stress during your time off, identify a second in command who can answer any of your urgent messages, either via email or in-person. And before you do, create boundaries with that colleague about what they are willing and not willing to take on.

Schedule breaks your first day back 

Moments of relaxation don’t need to stop once you return to work. In fact, reserving time for breathing or other mindfulness practices can help you relieve stress and anxiety, according to physicians at Harvard Medical School. Furthermore, the Clinical Handbook of Mindfulness explains that mindfulness practices can improve sleep quality and focus, which can ultimately fuel your productivity in the workplace. Make a special effort to incorporate several mindfulness breaks during your first few days back to work — that way you won’t lose that sense of calm. 

A good way to do this is by simply bringing your attention to your breath. Agapi Stassinopoulos, an author and meditation expert, tells Thrive Global that taking five deep breaths — inhaling and exhaling through your nose for a total of eight counts — can reset your brain and help you feel more present. You can find a quiet corner, or even try doing this at your desk. Take your mindfulness break one step further by closing your eyes and contemplating the things you are grateful for; this will ultimately make you feel happier and more hopeful

Prioritize with your manager 

Your first day back to work might feel a little overwhelming; you likely missed some meetings and have a more hectic to-do list than normal. The good news is that you don’t need to deal with it alone. Having an in-person or virtual sit down with your manager to catch up on what you might have missed, discuss what needs to get done, and prioritize your most important tasks can help you jump back in with a focused mindset and center your energy on the tasks that matter most.

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