If you’re like most Americans, then your vacations are rarely a time to get away from everything at work. Instead, you probably get bombarded with hone calls and e-mails from co-workers and clients who need you to do “just one thing” before they leave you alone. Often, this means that you spend an entire family vacation slaved to your phone, and come back to work feeling more tired than when you left. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to prevent work from creeping up on you while you’re on vacation.
Coordinate and clear your schedule.
Making sure that you don’t get interrupted during your vacation can often take as much work to plan as the trip itself. Of course, the best way to ensure that no one is going to need to talk you while you’re on vacation is to make sure that no one will really need you. This means planning your vacation time around the needs of your company.
To do this, start by considering the busy times of year that your company and/or department usually go through. After that, think about specific projects and clients. Ask yourself when work for these particular groups tends to increase the most. Consider if there are any times when projects tend to die down or work slows. Really make an effort to schedule longer vacations for these times.
If you can schedule your vacation time during periods when the company is less busy, odds are good that fewer people will need to call you demanding answers to questions or needing assistance right away. It can also help to plan your vacations during the time when the employees most likely to call you are also planning to take time off. While this may be difficult at a company where someone is always expected to cover certain duties, it can work well for people who have jobs in IT Support and other similar roles.
Take shorter vacations.
While you’re looking at your company’s upcoming schedule, consider if you would be happier taking a series of shorter trips. If long stays away from work seem to prompt a deluge of phone calls and emails several days in, the solution might be to get back before the phone calls start.
This strategy tends to work well at companies that have a steady flow of work. If there is no “slow period” for you to plan your vacation in, then limiting your time away to just a few days can work. Ideally, plan to come at least one day during the week that you leave for vacation in order to get everything set up before your trip.
Plan ahead to delegate work.
No matter how long your time away from the office will be, however, it’s important to make plans for your absence. If you’re in change of a department, make sure that everyone has clear work assignments before you go. This ensures that everyone will have something to do, and that your department will not devolve into chaos during your trip. Along with these assignments, make sure that your employees have the resources necessary to complete the work. That could include signing forms authorizing expenses, overtime, or other costs before you go. Also make sure that you approve leave requests and deal with any other personnel matters before your trip.
Next, concentrate on tying up your own projects and assignments. Solve as many issues as you can before you leave, and assign the remaining problems to other employees. If there are job duties that only you can accomplish, get as much done as you can before you leave, and inform your supervisors of where you stand with each project.
Deliberately schedule “no contact time”.
No matter how well you plan ahead and delegate your work, however, you still need to make a plan for when you’ll get the inevitable phone calls and e-mails. One of the best strategies to use is a direct method. Essentially, this means telling your employees and clients that you’re trying to minimize contact with the office while you’re on vacation.
Start by setting the alert message on your outgoing e-mail to a reminder of the days you’ll on vacation. This not-so-subtle reminder will encourage clients and co-workers to come to you with problems and issues before you leave. The day before you leave, meet with as many people as you can and politely mention your intention to avoid work while you’re away.
For the problems you just can’t avoid, however, make a plan to deal with phone calls and e-mails at designated times during the day. Pick a time in the morning when your family is sleeping in, or plan to return phone calls in the middle of the afternoon while the baby is taking a nap back at the hotel. Inform your co-workers that you’ll only be available during this one hour period. If you have to, make up a story about how you’re not allowed to bring your cell phone to the beach or museums you’re planning to visit, but that you’re making a set time frame everyday when you’ll be available.
As you scan your e-mail or check your messages during this time of the day, keep in mind that you only need to address the most critical issues. Make an effort to forward as many e-mails as possible to other people who can deal with small problems. Most importantly, don’t allow yourself to get caught up in a situation that will resolve itself before you get back. Trust your employees to handle things in your absence.
Making sure that work does not interfere with your vacation is a matter of good planning, delegating responsibilities, and actively managing your time on vacation. It’s important to keep in mind that you have a lot of control over which calls and e-mails you take while you’re on vacation. Don’t be scared to let calls go to voice mail, or answer e-mails with nothing more than a message for your employees to use their best judgement and let you know how it goes.