In the United States vacation has become a blessing and a curse: Most of us want to take time off, but sometimes the stress involved in prepping for a break from work can make beach time seem a little less tantalizing.
In fact, some research suggests nearly half of American workers regularly do not use all of their vacation days. That means a whopping 169 million vacation days go unused each year. Another study found Americans leave half of their paid vacation unclaimed.
And even when Americans take vacation, they often have a hard time truly disconnecting from work. Approximately 60 percent of employees report working while on vacation. This pressure to work around the clock seems to weigh hardest on the youngest working generation; one study found that 35 percent of Millennials often work every day of their vacations.
But in spite of the obstacles and stress involved in taking a vacation, it’s important that we do. Research shows down time away from work can increase productivity at work—and that’s not to mention the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of getting a little rest and relaxation.
All of this poses the question: Can you take your vacation and enjoy it, too?
The answer is “Yes.” With the help of some pre-vacation planning, you can maintain your productivity at work, sustain healthy relationships with clients and coworkers, and take a much-needed break from it all. Here’s how.
How to Prep for a Stress-Free Vacation from Work
- Prioritize your workload in advance
About a month before you leave for vacation, identify the tasks you must tackle before you leave, and the tasks you need to complete promptly once you get back. Then chart out a plan to finish all the must-dos in a timely manner. While you’re at it, make sure to avoid booking important meetings on the last day before you leave and the first few days after you return. That way, you can give the meeting your full attention after you return.
- Notify people of your absence
Several weeks before your trip, share your vacation dates with your coworkers and clients. Then follow up with them a few days before you leave to remind them that you’ll be out of town. In addition to these personal reminders, set up notifications the day before you leave including:
- A voicemail message that states the length of your trip and who to contact in your absence
- An automated email responder with the same content as your voicemail message
- A calendar setting that shows when you’ll be out (provided your office uses shared calendars)
By clearly communicating your absence, you can prevent frustrated calls and emails from coworkers or clients who think they’re being ignored. You’ll also help things flow smoothly by letting people know whom to contact in your absence.
- Clearly delegate responsibilities
If tasks need to be completed in your absence, delegate them to the appropriate parties in advance. Make sure the person or people you’ve delegated to have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them and how to get in touch with you should things go wrong. (It can also be helpful to leave written instructions to minimize the chance of them needing to interrupt your vacation.) Also be sure to tell the rest of your team who’ll be responsible for what in your absence. That way, people can reach out directly to the point person for particular tasks.
- Set and communicate boundaries
In addition to letting people know when you’ll be gone, it’s important to establish expectations around whether or not you’ll stay connected while you’re away. If you’re going somewhere with poor reception or if you choose to unplug for a few days, make sure coworkers and clients know you won’t be reachable during that time. Whether you plan to check email and voicemail once a day or only respond to coworker and client issues that qualify as an emergency, let people know. The boundaries are up to you; what matters is that you communicate them clearly so everyone is on the same page.
- Clean up your work space
Not only is it a lot nicer to return to a clean desk than a messy one, but you’ll do your coworkers a huge favor by organizing your space before you leave. Label important files (or anything else your coworkers may need to access while you’re gone) and make sure they’re easily accessible. Leave notes documenting processes for tasks that may fall to others while you’re gone. Lastly, unplug any electronics so you do not waste electricity.
- Pack accordingly
If you plan to do some work or be semi-available while on vacation, remember to pack everything you need such as a laptop or tablet, important documents, passwords, adapters, and chargers.
Preparing for vacation in an orderly way requires some extra effort. But by taking the time to get organized before your absence, you’ll help ensure things stay organized while you’re gone. And that’s a breath of fresh air.