The countdown is on. You’ve made your reservations. You’ve got your itinerary set. The battery in your camera is fully charged and an empty SD card waits to be fully loaded with photos. Vacation is on the horizon. (By the way, if there isn’t time off in your future, you may want to take a moment to read this and this. Then plan your PTO.)
As excited as you are about this trip, there may be a small bit of anxiety rolling around in the back of your mind about what is going to greet you when you return to the office. Here’s the good news: wading through a week of email and voicemail is going to be worth it. Here’s the better news: there are some steps you can take now before you leave to make your return to work later a little easier.
Make a Game Plan
As you prepare for vacation, don’t overlook one very important component of your pre-trip planning – the out-of-office plan. Take a look at your current office to-do list and identify tasks which should be wrapped up before you go. Do you have weekly tasks that can’t be ignored? Do what you can ahead of time and delegate what needs to be done while you’re gone.
You’ve got a wonderful, competent team. Get their help. There’s no reason you need to return to an overwhelming pile of backlogged work because you took some time off. Ask your team to handle time-sensitive tasks in your absence. That may mean dividing your client list between team members. It may mean asking someone to be responsible to manage the social media feeds while you’re gone or to update the website or to keep up on the weekly KPI reports.
Trust Your Team
As a leader, you’ve hired this team for a reason. Trust them. This is something you should be working on long before you pack your bags and board your plane, by the way. Build a team you can trust to manage their day-to-day responsibilities without your oversight. Give them the freedom and independence to do their thing and to prove that they can step into the gap and do some of your things when you need them to, so you can lay on a beach in the Caribbean or hike a mountain in the Southwest without worry.
The value of clear, concise communication cannot be overstated. The ability to effectively communicate separates the okay leaders from the great leaders. While you’re leaning on this skill every day, it becomes even more valuable when you’re planning to take time off. Clearly communicate your out-of-office game plan to your team. Who will be responsible for what while you’re gone? When will you be unreachable? Are you completely unreachable or are there certain topics that they should reach out to you about?
Let’s hit pause here. You should be willing and able to completely disconnect from work from time to time. You may, however, want to identify a list of “burning fires” that you need to be made aware of - and that could range from a literal fire in the office to any other emergency you should be aware of as a leader. Be clear with your team so they aren’t trying to figure out what is important enough to bug you and what can wait.
Communicate with the Outside World
Don’t just loop in your team. Make sure key clients, partners, and stakeholders know you’re going to be out of office for the week. More importantly, let them know who they can connect with while you’re out. Establish a timeline of when you’ll be able to return any messages left for you during your vacation.
Clear the Inbox and To-Do List
You’ll have enough to wade through when you get back. There’s no reason to pile on the tasks you didn’t complete and the emails you didn’t read before you left. Take the time before you leave for your vacation to clean out your inbox and complete the tasks you can. Make a list of items that need follow-up while you’re gone and identify who will do them. Make a list of tasks that will get your attention when you return and a preliminary game plan of how you’ll do it.
Set Realistic Timeframes
You’re not going to return to the office next Monday and get through all your usual Monday tasks plus all the stuff that’s piled up while you were gone. Be realistic and set reasonable timelines for yourself. Above we advised you to “establish a timeline of when you’ll be able to return any messages left for you during your vacation” and to “make a list of tasks that will get your attention when you return and a preliminary game plan of how you’ll do it.” Those tasks require you to identify a reasonable timeline. Give yourself a few days to tackle what you’re returning to. “I’ll be back in the office on Monday, [date], and will return actionable emails by Wednesday, [date].” This step is key.
Sometimes we avoid taking our PTO because we imagine how much work we’ll be creating for ourselves when we return. The mountain of catch-up feels overwhelming before we even step out the door. Some of that overwhelm can be alleviated with an effective reentry plan. Those tasks aren’t something you’d have been doing in a single day if you hadn’t been out of the office. Don’t try to do them in a single day upon your return.