If the thought of leaving work for a few days of PTO leaves you feeling burdened instead of excited, it’s definitely time for a vacation! In our heads we tell ourselves we have too much on our plates, that we’re dropping the ball, and shifting the burden to our co-workers, or worse, our future selves. This isn’t the kind of guilt and worry anyone needs as they prepare to take a few days off. It’s called Paid Time Off for a reason. It’s not working from a beach, mountain, or hotel while pretending to unplug while you scroll through e-mail everyday, and responding to anything you can resolve quickly or may blow up later.
I can already hear the protests. My work is TOO important not to check in! There’s no one who can cover for me? I have a big project going on! If you want to mix working remotely with some rest and relaxation, that’s fine, but make sure you have some clear boundaries on when you’re working, and for how long. An e-mail session can quickly expand from 15 minutes to all morning. Chances are some true distance from work will provide some much needed perspective if only for a few days.
Here are some concrete steps I’ve learned that help me prepare for some well-deserved PTO.
1) Create a coverage plan
Now’s when you nail down:
- what’s in progress that needs oversight in your absence
- who can provide that oversight
- which tasks need new owners while you are away.
It’s easy to cover off on these tasks during 1:1’s with your team members the week before you take off. If you’re looking for support outside of your team, now’s the time to schedule those conversations.
2) Clear the calendar – decline, delegate, delay
Even though you may have had the day or days blocked, it’s likely you still have some meetings scheduled during your PTO. Now’s the time to go meeting by meeting and alert the organizer that you won’t be there. If it’s something critical you don’t want to miss, arrange to have a delegate attend in your place. If sending notes isn’t a normal part of your meeting culture, ask your delegate to send you a bulleted list of actions and decisions right after the meeting. If I’m doing this for someone, I literally keep a list going in a blank e-mail and send as soon as the meeting concludes. This way, I don’t have to remind myself to do it later! The final tactic for clearing the calendar is to delay the meeting until you return from vacation.
3) Block your return morning.
While you’re calendar clearing, ensure you’ve got at least 1-2 hours blocked to ensure you don’t burn up on re-entry to work. This ensures you can catch up prior to any major meetings. And your team will appreciate “seeing” you that morning, either virtually or in-person before your meeting rush begins.
4) Communicate with your boss what you’ve got going on, and how you’re covering things
- It seems common sense to give your boss a heads up on your PTO coverage plan, but it’s something that rarely happens and really can set you apart as a top performer. It can be as simple as “Joe’s covering the monthly report out for me” to an e-mail that gives a bulletpoint list overview, to a few minutes chatting about it during your 1:1.
- Anticipate anything that may come up while you’re gone that may need their support, and be sure to ask if there’s anything specific you need to do before you go. This keeps the phone calls to a minimum.
5) Don’t give away the day
If you’re going to be gone during something that really does “need” you, then build that into the vacation plan. Do that one thing, and be done! Don’t give the whole day away unless, you choose to spend it working.
To all my type-A working vacation types, now’s the time to commit to at least one FULL day off of the tech. Make sure on this special day, you are fully present with your spouse/kids/friends/family. You may find yourself itching to fill your hands with your phone or laptop. But instead of connecting to the internet, connect with those you see, and know more days like this are the ones that make the best memories.
One last thought for those wrestling with the thought of truly disconnecting because it feels selfish. I can assure you, it’s not. One added benefit of taking a real vacation instead of a working vacation is the break it gives you team. I remember when a former boss used to go off grid for nearly a whole week. Everyone knew she had no wi-fi, no cell reception, and wouldn’t expect responses until she returned to the land of wi-fi. So while she got to enjoy some uninterrupted time with her family, those of us working also had the opportunity to focus on the current priorities, and resolve issues on our own, while still getting responses ready for her return.
So do yourself, and your team a favor, and take a REAL vacation!