Vacations offer time to relax and recharge. They’re an opportunity to spend quality time with those you care about and enjoy exciting new experiences. Yet, all too often, work-related stress (not to mention actual tasks and obligations) can bleed into what’s supposed to be important time-off.
A survey from the American Psychological Association found that more than 1 in 5 Americans feel stressed during their time-off—and 28% end up working more than they initially planned. The result? Positive effects of vacation—improved motivation, energy, and productivity—tend to wear off after just a matter of days.
So, how do you truly disconnect from work on vacation and reap the full benefits of time away from the daily grind? It starts with careful planning before you leave all the way through your return to work. Use these tips to leave your work at the office and return to work after vacation feeling rejuvenated.
Getting Organized: Up to Your Last Day of Work Before Vacation
Making the most of your vacation requires getting organized ahead of time. To actually leave your work at the office, you need to leave things in a good place. Check off these things to do before going on vacation and you’ll set yourself up for a more relaxing trip.
- Set the Stage: Starting 2 to 3 weeks before your trip, add a note to your email signature that outlines your upcoming vacation dates. If you are in regular, close contact with clients, communicate with them directly about your upcoming time-off.
- Share a Coverage Plan: As your departure day approaches, communicate with colleagues and develop a plan to ensure that urgent tasks and needs are delegated and covered as required. Discuss ongoing projects and chart any important milestones and expected progress for the period you’re gone.
- Set Up an Out-of-Office Reply: Knowing how to write an out-of-office message for vacation is an important skill—and a task you definitely won’t want to forget to check off. Use your OOO message to let your correspondents know when you will return, whether or not you will be checking messages and, especially if not, who they can contact in the meantime.
- Tidy Up Your Space: The last thing you need upon your return is a messy desk or office. Whether you work from home or at the office, make sure you spend some time organizing your space before closing up shop. Not only will it be easier to get back to work on your return, but you’ll also leave town with that extra bit of peace of mind.
How to Disconnect from Work—and Your Devices—While on Vacation
While prepping ahead of time is key, the real work of unplugging from your job comes once you actually arrive. Make a clean break from your work stress and your devices—or as much of one as you can—by following these simple steps.
- Leave What You Can at Home: Between laptops, tablets, and smartphones, your colleagues and clients have a lot of ways to find you these days. The easiest way to disconnect is to leave whatever work-related devices you can at home.
- Turn Off Notifications: If you don’t have a work-supplied smartphone, odds are you have various work-related apps on your personal device. Silence the barrage of daily messages and make it easier to resist any temptation to join in by turning off notifications for the duration of your travel.
- Go Device-Free for a While: Even if you’re not using your personal devices for work, make sure you carve out some time to disconnect entirely. Schedule a hike, a day at the beach, or a guided urban tour—anything that allows you to unplug, relax, and truly take a break from the stressors of work and life outside vacation.
If You Must: The Right Way to Work While on Vacation
The reality of being an employee is, of course, that people depend on you. And in our always-on world that makes instant communications easier than ever, sometimes disconnecting entirely isn’t always in the cards. Still, that doesn’t have add up to a stressful or work-filled vacation. After all, if that’s the case, does it really count as a vacation? Keep work from overrunning your R&R with these best practices.
- Define the Bare Minimum: Pose one simple question ahead of your trip is: “Just how little work can I do to stay on track?” This amount will, of course, vary from person to person and role to role. But being aware of your bare minimum can help you set a limit on the maximum amount of work you’re willing and able do while still focusing on traveling.
- Create a Schedule (and Stick to It): Based on how much work you need to do, define a set schedule. Ideally, this will just entail a short session or two each day at the most. Communicate this schedule to your travel buddies and enlist their help in making sure you work only during this pre-determined time.
- Find the Right Spot: At the end of the day, even if you need to get some work done, you’re still on vacation. So, make sure it feels like it. If possible, find a unique or scenic spot to work from, rather than just any old desk in your hotel or apartment. Your coworkers might be jealous when you take a conference call from your beach chair, but they certainly can’t fault you for it—you’re on vacation, after all.
Back to Reality: How to Return to Work After Vacation
Going back to work after vacation can be a real drag. So much so there’s even a term for this rough return. To some extent, these “post-vacation blues” are unavoidable. (Who wouldn’t want to remain seaside or slope-side instead of coming back into to the office?) However, it’s still possible to rein in the gloom and more easily adjust to normal life.
- Build in a Buffer: When you get back from vacation, you’ve got much more than just work to worry about. Give yourself sometime to decompress, get your personal affairs back in order, and potentially get over jet lag by scheduling a day or two of buffer between your trip and your return to work.
- Set Priorities: Before you start in on what might seem like an endless list of to-dos, make things easier on yourself by getting organized. Break down your tasks by their level of priority and break up larger projects into more manageable milestones to ease your return to work after vacation.
- Craft the Right Calendar: If you’ve successfully disconnected while away, you can probably expect to find a full inbox waiting for you on your return. Between catching up on messages and getting a handle on high-priority tasks, the last thing you need is a cluttered calendar packed with meetings. When you get back to work, reschedule any inessential meetings for later in the week and let yourself focus on what you need to do most.
Look Forward to Your Next Getaway
Maybe the best way to cure the post-vacation blues? Give yourself another trip to look forward to. During your first days back to the grind, it’s easy to find yourself daydreaming of another trip. So, if you can, act on those desires and book yourself another trip for the near future.
Knowing you’ve got another opportunity to disconnect from work on the horizon might be all the motivation you need. And with some practice on using these tips on how to disconnect from work, you’ll already know how to make the most of your next getaway.