“Good plans shape good decisions. That’s why good planning helps to make elusive dreams come true.” – Lester R. Bittel (“The Nine Master Keys of Management”)
Yes, you can get away from the office. You can travel. You can even leave your laptop and cell phone behind. But you can’t make the work go away. It stays behind like a wretched beast, waiting for your return, angry at your absence, growling and whining and getting bigger and meaner and harder to deal with each passing hour. By the time you get back to the office, it will rip you to pieces and gobble you up.
Unless … you take precautions.
Here is what I recommend:
1. First and most important — treat your vacation like a project. Use this 10-point guide as a project outline. Accomplish each task on a schedule that doesn’t stress you. Do this right now. Today, if possible. If not, by the end of this week.
2. Provide at least three weeks’ advance notice to everyone you are normally in contact with.
3. Two weeks before you leave, meet with all your key subordinates and hand them a memo listing all their “on-vacation” responsibilities and important “emergency” data. Let them know that this is an opportunity to advance their careers. Let each of them take on one new responsibility — something you would be happy to let him keep doing when you return. If they rise to the occasion, this will lighten your load — not only immediately after the vacation but indefinitely.
4. About a week before you leave, send a note to your boss “reminding” him of your vacation and letting him know that everything is under control, that you’ll be checking in (if you can check in), that you’ve left an emergency number with someone (not with him), etc. Define “emergency” in, say, three degrees. Tell him that you have staff trained and prepared to handle the first two levels of emergency. Ask him to call you or have you called only if it is truly a three-alarm emergency. Remind him that you do intend to work while you are gone (see below) but would rather not do work that will stress you out and leave you, at the end of your vacation, unable to get back to work with enthusiasm. This is a lot to say, but say it succinctly. The main purpose of this memo is to calm your boss down and keep him from making your vacation a nightmare of unnecessary interruptions.
5. Between now and the day you leave, catch up on as much important work as possible. Pay special attention to projects with deadlines that are due while you are away. Instead of doing all the work yourself, enlist help from anyone willing. Complete as many jobs as you can ahead of time so you won’t have to worry about them when you’re gone.
6. While you are on vacation, have your e-mail automatically bounce back messages to senders with instructions on what to do for “emergencies.”
7. Keep a notepad with you while you enjoy your vacation, because you will inevitably have ideas about how to make your business better and you don’t want to forget them. (Be sure to include those ideas in a memo to your people — with a copy to your boss — the day you return.)
8. Give yourself some limited amount of time every day for work. I am happy with three hours. You might want to spend less. If you want to spend zero time, that’s fine too. But if you are reading ETR, you are probably too ambitious to do nothing. Setting a limit will allow you to enjoy your free time without worry or guilt.
9. Sometime during your vacation, schedule a couple of hours to think about the big picture — your primary life goals (including work), your health, your happiness, etc. Make some adjustments if necessary.
10. When you return to the office, keep your schedule clear for as long as possible to give yourself time to catch up. A good rule of thumb is to give yourself one day for every two days of vacation. If you’ve been away for two weeks, for example, schedule an entire “catch-up” week.