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Going On Vacation Soon? Get Your Work Ducks in a Row First!

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Vacation Planning

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. 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.

Vacations are great. But what isn’t great is going on a vacation and having to worry about or actually do work. Unfortunately, though, many Americans are caught in the trap of either not taking a vacation at all, or taking a vacation and working while they’re supposed to be off the clock. That has caught us in a bind of too much stress and too big of a negative emotional, mental, and physical impact on our health.

What can help, then, is preparation—and not the day before vacation prep, either. At least a month before you want to leave, you should start thinking about what’s going to happen while you’re gone, and who can help manage various tasks. And you also need to tell people—anyone who might be able to fill in for you in certain spots while you’re gone and anyone who might be impacted by you not being in the office. All of this poses the question: Can you take your vacation and enjoy it, too?

Want to learn more ways to plan well for a vacation? Use the ideas in this graphic.

Vacation Planning

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.