Fall’s coming. And as much as I adore this season, my mind can easily turn to the cold that will arrive and vacation adventure travels.. We love our vacations, yet the persistent challenge of working during cherished breaks is as ubiquitous in the leaders I coach as it is with their teams. Disconnecting from work and immersing in leisure is not just a luxury, it’s a fundamental human right. Making it happen may seem simple to imagine, but it’s not that easy to do. So let’s explore some strategies for making time to vacation, what often gets left out in communication before you leave, different styles of vacations and what to do if you’re failing to take a true break.
Streamline, simplify and succeed.
Let’s face it—getting away can be a challenge. After all, there’s so much to do. This is especially the self-talk of those who are experiencing work overload that never seems to let up. If you’re involved in far too many projects to ever consider taking time off to rest and reenergize, then it’s your job to negotiate people’s expectations of your role and streamline their demands. Proactively prioritizing, delegating and negotiating are the skills to put into action to make your working life reasonable and create the pathway to providing your brain with a mental break and stress relief.
Communicate your availability limits.
Once you set the date when you will be off work, it’s up to you to enable others to plan for your absence well in advance. Merely activating an out-of-office (OOO) email alert is too late and insufficient to announce your vacation status to those you work with inside the organization and out.
One partner in a financial services firm was on vacation when his client urgently communicated that there was interest in a company buyout. They hadn’t said anything to him for months prior, but now suddenly they were crushed with preparations and the deadline was imminent, leaving him little choice but to sacrifice a half-day of his time away with family because he was the only one on the team who could do the work.
To minimize surprises in the future, he’s taken to putting a proactive strategy in place. He initiates early client conversations, supplementing the communication of his upcoming vacation dates with a comprehensive checklist of common challenges and deadlines. This serves as a helpful reminder to jog their memory regarding potential impacts of his unavailability. This proactive communication has lessened client surprises and left him with peace of mind that he didn’t leave it all in the hands of his clients.
Expect to be surprised.
Nevertheless, let’s be real. It’s smart to do what you can to diminish the probability that you will be interrupted on vacation by a surprise demand. It’s also realistic to accept that no matter how resolute you are in your desire for uninterrupted bliss, and no matter what you’ve done ahead of time, there will be times when work comes knocking on your holiday’s door. High-stakes situations can arise while you are away that can’t wait for your return, and your team will reach out to you. But here’s the catch—make sure everyone is on the same page about what truly constitutes a “high-stakes” matter. Is it an intergalactic invasion threatening the fate of your company? Or a trumped-up fake deadline that your team has been duped to believe? What information can you provide to your team ahead of time to help them effectively spot the fakes and to triage the real, urgent messes?
Stop temptation with a habit.
It’s problematic to aim to de-stress and truly relax if you are checking your devices all day long and crowding out the benefits of why you took time off in the first place. There’s no chance of interrupting the sources of stress. Self-monitoring is easy for some but not for all. If you have trouble holding back from repeatedly checking for messages from people at work, there are plenty of hacks for you to experiment with. Recruit an ally and empower them to be your gatekeeper. They could safeguard your device(s), maintain the secrecy of your passcode and help you respect a time limit you make for yourself. With their assistance, you can override the temptation to constantly look at work-related messages.
Choose your vacation style.
Not all vacations are created equal. If you want to work during your time off, consider embracing the concept of a “working vacation,” and own it. Maybe you are a digital nomad—working while traveling on “holiday.” Be transparent about your intentions, letting your team know that you will be available to them while also taking breaks for personal rejuvenation. Setting these expectations up front can foster open communication and ease any hesitations from your staff and colleagues who might otherwise shield you from interruptions.
Get out of your own way.
Finally, if you have a pattern that you intend to disconnect but don’t every time, consider that it’s not them—it’s you. You might be getting in the way of your well-earned vacation. Reflecting on what saboteurs are causing you to avoid putting on the brakes is helpful, whether it be the ceaseless need for accomplishments, the driving fear of what could happen when you aren’t working, persistence in the role of the victim or the people-pleaser or a reluctance to put yourself first, to name a few. These saboteurs aren’t fixed for life, but their hold on you can be. They are at the root of your dissatisfaction and explain your unhappiness and frustration. It’s time to recognize them and lessen their hold on you.
Does anyone need evidence that taking breaks from work is a good thing and necessary? They offer relaxation, fill us with positive emotions and diversify our experiences away from the routine. It’s a no-brainer, and yet there are so many things conspiring to take us off our leisure time while away from work. One big one is work itself. Another one is us.
A version of this article was published by Forbes.com. Photo thanks to Priscilla du Preez.