Paid vacation time is one of the most prized forms of professional compensation. So why are we so bad at taking advantage of it?
A 2014 Glassdoor survey found that Americans only take 25% of their allotted paid vacation time, and well over half work while they’re away. It’s understandable–the tasks keep coming, the emails pour in, and the prospect of going away and letting it all build up only to engulf you upon return seems hardly worth it.
But even as smartphones and increasingly powerful WiFi keep us tethered to the office no matter how far away we may physically be, managers and their employees alike are realizing the importance of taking time to repair and recharge. Whether this Fourth of July will be your first long weekend at a new job or you’re capitalizing on the holiday to take those two full weeks you’ve been saving up for a big trip, here are a few simple guidelines that can help you head out the door with a clear conscience–and desk.
Got your flights? Then it’s time to start planning your workflow, too.
You wouldn’t put off buying your plane tickets until the last minute, so why leave the work prep until the eleventh hour? Laura Vanderkam, author of I Know How She Does It: How Successful Woman Make the Most of Their Time, recommends beginning to lay vacation groundwork at least two weeks in advance, identifying what you know must be accomplished for the week you’re away and parceling it out over the intervening time.
“Make a list that is the things that absolutely have to happen during that week and that absolutely have to be done by you,” says Vanderkam. “Presumably, that list is going to be relatively short. Put yourself on a sustainable schedule.”
Productivity consultant and author of Never Check Email In The Morning Julie Morgenstern stresses that when making that list, it’s important to stay focused. This is not the time to get a jump on new projects or dream up things to add to the heap.
“Forget the backlog, forget looking ahead,” says Morgenstern. “What are my core functions? Make a list of those first.”
Use an upcoming vacation as the incentive you need to finally cross things off your list.
Everyone has backlog–new projects take shape and demand attention and the items loitering at the bottom of the to do list get moved further and further down, no closer to being completed.
Though it’s important to stay focused on what belongs on your vacation to do list and what can wait, the time before a break can be the perfect window to eliminate things that have been lingering. They’ll be that much older when you get back, and a new crop of unfinished tasks will have emerged in the time you were away. Vanderkam estimate the average backlog of white-collar workers at 30 hours–that’s three or four work days of nagging, unfinished projects.
“The deadline of leaving is the thing that’s finally going to motivate you to get it done. The stuff that gets on your backlog is usually big and intimidating, anything that takes deep, concentrated, uninterrupted time to get done.”
She says the tasks that languish in backlog purgatory are usually from opposite ends of the priority spectrum, for example, that writing project that’s going to require several hours of uninterrupted concentration, and that pile of month-old cab receipts that need to be expensed.
“Look through those things and see which is going to give you the highest value before you go. ‘If I run out of time’—which you will—’what am I going to feel the greatest relief having gotten done?’”
Is there something you know you’ll never finish, no matter the time available? Delegate it–or delete it for good.
Agree on your out of office accessibility before you’ve zipped your suitcase.
While many professionals feel a 100% vacation disconnect is ideal for physical and mental restoration, Morgenstern says it’s not the end of the world if you have to be in communication–as long as you and your manager determine in advance what that means.
“Go to your boss and say, ‘Here’s my plan, will you sign off on this? Is there anything you feel you really need me accessible for?’ And then agree on how you’ll check in about that.”
An agreed-upon 15-minute phonecall or plan for how to check-in in case of a crisis doesn’t have to ruin your time away, as long as boundaries are set before you find yourself on a poolside conference call.
Email does not get its own lounge chair on your vacation.
To check or not to check, that is the question. Feelings on how to stem the tide of vacation email so that checking it doesn’t ruin your time away but being buried by it doesn’t destroy your post-vacation high vary. Vanderkam recommends doing a quick assessment of your email strengths and weaknesses and setting some steadfast parameters before opening the floodgates even a notch.
“If you think you can keep it under control, and it will make you less stressed, you can carve out a little bit of time. It could be that you get up before your family three mornings during the week and spend half an hour looking at email, and then you disconnect for the next 48 hours.”
But, she warns, a set-up like that will only be beneficial to someone who can stick to the rules.
“If you don’t think you’ll be able to control it, if you know it’s going to upset you or if your family has strong feelings against you doing that, it’s probably not worth it.”
The time to start building vacation karma is now.
Most professionals get by with a little help from their friends–or in this case, their coworkers. Once you’ve made that list of things that have to happen and planned for the ones you can accomplish in advance, it’s time to seek the aid of the other people on your team.
“Hopefully you’ve helped out a colleague here or there in the past with their vacation and you have some chips you can call in to have people handle a few things that could wind up on your list, but don’t have to,” says Vanderkam. “If you’ve been good about making sure that nothing reached them during vacation, hopefully they’ll do the same for you. ”
This is an update of a piece that ran previously.
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This article was written by Kathryn Dill from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.