It’s that time of year… Vacation Season! Time when all of us are hoping for some time away, even if it’s just a long weekend. (Although I hope you’re planning a good week-long trip somewhere to unplug.) There have been numerous studies that show how taking your vacation time improves productivity overall.
One of the most common challenges I heard from my executive clients for years was how stressful it felt before and after a vacation. Sometimes they’d say that the extra stress was almost not worth taking the time away (which just makes me sad to hear.) We all really need some time to unplug, and if we’re spending it with loved ones then all the better. It’s a wonderful chance to make the memories that you’ll be reflecting on for decades.
So, it’s important that we make our vacations a priority. Which means… how can we make the travel transitions easier? I’ve got 7 suggestions for before and after your trip that might make your next vacation transition significantly easier.
What To Do Before You Leave
Block Out Post-travel Reintegration Time – The best gift you can give yourself is to block your schedule for extra time immediately after you return. If the trip is only a couple days, then a half day should be sufficient. If it’s over a week, then at least one full day after your return will be appropriate. Keep your schedule on that day completely free of meetings and commitments. That doesn’t mean that you won’t be working, but it does mean that you’ll be able to weed through what’s happened while you were gone and prioritize what needs to happen next without jumping up every 30 minutes for another meeting. (It can also give you extra time to unpack and do a load or two of laundry.)
Set Your Away Messages for an Extra Day (or two) – It’s all about expectations, and similar to my suggestion above, you can help manage expectations in your auto-responder messages. If you’re going to be back on Monday, then say on your away message that you’ll be available on Tuesday or Wednesday. By saying that you will not be available for an extra day or two after your actual return you give yourself some breathing space and set boundaries so others won’t inundate you within hours of your return. The important messages and actions will be rapidly clear, and it doesn’t mean that you won’t respond to them on that first day… this minor adjustment simply creates a bit of space to allow you to re-enter more gracefully and prioritize everything appropriately.
Designate Your Alternates – You probably have a variety of projects on your plate, and your team members might be looking for guidance or feedback to ensure they can continue to move forward while you’re away. Pause for a few minutes before you head out on your trip and ask yourself if there’s someone else on the team that could stand in for you. Maybe you can grant them temporary decision-making power, or maybe they can just be a guide or resource to talk through options and handle emergencies. You’ll want to be very clear what level of authority you’re granting, but sometimes just taking this precaution will both allow you to let go of your work more fully while you’re away and ensure that the wheels stay on the bus even without your input!
What To Do After You Get Back
Unpack and Get Personally Settled – I have found that if I don’t do this first, then almost assuredly I’m into my inbox and work, and my suitcase languishes for days or longer. Unpack, get a load of laundry in, eat and sleep if that’s appropriate… then you can open your email.
Triage Your Actions into Horizons – It’s time to bring your Master List of tasks up to speed. (If you don’t yet have a Master List, then download my eGuide “Start Your Master List” to help you develop this great system.) Review your email, voicemail, and incoming paper mail to capture all the new tasks that have arrived into three categories: Today (ASAP), Soon (This week), Later… This is the critical time when it becomes so easy to get reactive rather than intentional. So, before you jump to doing everything, take 30 minutes to get a lay of the land and bring your systems up to date.
Focus on Your Today Actions - You won’t be able to get everything done in a day… that’s not the goal. As I’m known to say, there will always be more things you could do. The goal isn’t to get them all done. The goal is to focus your energy and attention and get the right ones done right now. So, stop trying to do a week or more of work in a day, that’s how you’re creating unnecessary stress for yourself. Create your Top Priority/ASAP list, and just start gently working your way through them :). Then, go home, rest, and wash, rinse, repeat tomorrow.
Make Sure You Turn Off/Change Your Away Messages – Once you’ve landed, triaged, and taken your recovery day to get back up to speed... now is the time to turn off your away messages for your phone and email. Don’t forget this step (which we all have done occasionally)… it’s just too funny (and a little embarrassing) when you get that friend who tells you that your voicemail still says you’re gone and it's been days, weeks, or months since you got back.
If you don’t yet have a trip planned for the next few months… then get it done! :). At minimum, block off some time on your calendar ASAP, then you can decide how you want to use it. Even a Staycation might give you a rest and offer you a chance to explore some cool places within an easy drive of home. My folks are coming to visit us here in the Boston area this summer, and I’m looking forward to doing many of the touristy things that we never do near home.
If you already have your vacation plans in the works, then grab your calendar and block off your extra “reintegration day” after you return. Reschedule meetings for later in the week if necessary. Give yourself a different experience when getting back from this trip.
Mostly… HAVE FUN! It’s these experiences that make the memories you’ll tell stories about for many years (not whether you returned one more phone call ;).) Give yourself full permission to enjoy the time, and know that you will be able to handle the tasks that await with ease and grace when you return.
Erin Elizabeth Wells is The Intentionality Expert, Productivity Strategist and founder of Chosen Course, a professional productivity consulting and training firm. Erin helps high achievers, entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, and influencers to improve their productivity, focus, and effectiveness in their work and daily life. She is the author of Inspired Action: Create More Purpose, Productivity, & Peace in Your Life. Erin is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School with a Masters of Divinity (M.Div.) degree, a Certified Professional Organizer (CPO®), and a certified practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)