By Emma Hickey
Vacations are a good thing, so why do they sometimes feel bad? For a lot of us, the idea of leaving work for a week, or even just a few days, is so daunting, so stressful, that we avoid using our vacation time altogether. If you start feeling this way—dreaming about a vacation and then talking yourself out of it because you’re afraid of the mess that will be waiting for you when you return—that probably means you need a vacation. You’re expending too much energy on work! You’re at risk of burning out! You need to take time away from work, and you need to make a plan for your team while you’re gone so that you’ll actually enjoy vacation. Whether you’re visiting a big city, a beach, or going somewhere off the grid, making a vacation plan for your team helps ensure things run smoothly while you’re gone and stay smooth upon your return.
Here are some tips to best prepare for your vacation away from work:
Give your team plenty of notice and put it in writing
Whether you’re the boss or you report to the boss, let your team know when you’ll be out of the office. Put it in writing so that no one gets confused about the dates that you’ll be gone. If you use a vacation tracking software, input your dates well in advance even if they were verbally approved by your manager. Input your dates well in advance even if you are the manager. Doing this will minimize the risk of other people on your team planning a vacation at the same time, or forgetting that you’ll be out and scheduling meetings with you during that time. The more notice you give, the better.
Put your vacation on your calendar
In many organizations, calendars are the company's lifelines. It’s where team members look when booking meetings and planning events. Note your vacation on your calendar so that, should anyone in your company go looking for you, they’ll find the answer as to where you are. A simple “OOO” All Day event on the dates you’ll be gone is enough. Some managers like to invite their team to their vacation event so it will populate on every team member’s calendar too, while others find that clutters their calendars. Other organizations have public calendars shared among the broader team for the purpose of recording vacations. If there’s no standard at your company, make sure to at least note your vacation on your own calendar!
Find someone to cover for you
Of course, no one can fully cover all of your work for you. Your job is your job for a reason, but if you can find someone to monitor a few of your recurring or outstanding tasks, it will make your life so much easier when you return. This will also help eliminate any bottlenecks that could arise due to your absence. You don’t have to rely on just one person, either. Ask a few different people to each handle a task, or a client, or a vendor relationship for you while you’re gone. You can return the favor when they’re on vacation.
Make an OOO Doc
Think of your Out of Office Document as a substitute for you while you’re away. You, rendered two dimensional. Create and share this document with your team for them to use as a resource while you’re out. List and clearly define the tasks you’ve asked your teammates to cover for you, including any helpful information they may need to know to make completing those tasks easier. Also, take some time to think through the questions you’re regularly asked, and list those (along with the answers) in the OOO Doc, too. This will decrease the likelihood that people will need to reach out to you with questions while you’re on vacation, and help your team help you keep your work organized until you return.
Set up reminders for your coworkers who are covering for you
You don’t want to annoy those who have agreed to help you, so you probably don’t need to remind them when the big project they took over for you is due, but if you’ve asked someone to water your plant or feed your desk fish while you’re gone, it might be helpful to put that on their calendar, schedule an email reminder or leave them a post-it note.
Set up Vacation Responders (Email and Voicemail)
Whether you use Gmail, Outlook or another email provider, you should be able to create an automated response that will alert anyone who emails you while you’re on vacation that you are out of the office. You can select a beginning and an end date for the reminder, so even if you forget to turn it off when you return, it will automatically turn itself off. It’s also helpful to include another contact in your email, in case the message is urgent. A good OOO message looks something like this:
“I’m out of the office from X/X-X/X with limited (or no) internet access. Please reach out to [insert teammate’s name] at [insert teammate’s email] with any urgent inquiries.”
This should help take some of the pressure off of you to check your emails while away and help you have a restful vacation! If you have an office phone, you should also set up a vacation voicemail that will inform callers you’re out of the office.
Set Yourself to Do Not Disturb on Slack...
...or whatever inter-office messaging platform you use. Most of these applications don’t have vacation responder options, but you can at least set yourself to Away or Do Not Disturb so that people will know you’re not available, even if they don’t have the context as to why.
Let your contacts know you’ll be OOO
Whether it’s a high priority client or an outside vendor, think through the people outside your office who might need to know you’ll be gone and give them a heads up. Make sure to also set them up with a contact from your company they can reach out to if any issues arise while you’re gone!
Decide how much, if at all, you’ll check into work, and communicate that to your team
Depending on the nature of your role, you may not be able to completely leave work behind while on vacation. That doesn’t have to totally interfere with your time away, though. Determine how many times you’ll need to check into work, communicate when that will be your team, and for your own sake try and stick to the plan. It also helps to set a realistic expectation for your team with regards to how much you will actually be available while away.
Block off your last two hours in the office before you leave, and your first two when you return
If you can avoid it, try not to take any meetings during your last two hours at work before leaving for vacation and your first two hours back at work when vacation is over. This may not always be possible, but it’s a good goal to keep in mind. This way, you’ll have time right before you go on vacation to finish up last minute To Do’s, and you’ll have time when you get back to reorient yourself.
Clean your desk
You don’t have to do this, but isn’t it nice to come back from vacation to a clean desk?
Let go of the expectation that you’ll finish everything before vacation
Whatever “everything” means to you, you won’t finish it before you go on vacation. It’s this kind of unrealistic expectation that keeps us from taking our vacation time in the first place. You have to accept the fact that you’re going to head into vacation with things still on your To Do list, and you’re going to return from vacation with that list even longer. That’s ok. Don’t let that very real but also very unavoidable fact keep you from taking the time you deserve away from work to rest and recharge.