I don’t remember the last time I took a real vacation. It’s been years. I travel once in a while, but I always have my laptop with me. As a freelance writer, I can work from almost anywhere, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. It means I spend almost every day of my life working. I’m reluctant to take time off, and not just because I don’t get any paid vacation. I ask myself things like, “What if my workload is so bad when I get back online that I regret my time away?” and “What if they ask someone else to do my work while I’m gone, and they like that person better?”
I know I’m not the only person who has these worries, but I’m trying to get past them, so I can take at least one full week off this year. I want a whole week where I don’t have to check my email, where no assignments are due, and where no one is adding to my to-do list. (Saving for that vacation is a separate challenge.) As I think about how to arrange my time off, I’ve been reading about how important it is to take these kinds of breaks. Multiple studies have shown that vacations are more than just fun—they’re good for your physical and mental health, make you more creative, and increase your productivity. I want to experience all of those benefits, and I’m sure you do, too.
So, how does a person take a real vacation, the kind where you completely disconnect?
It’s all about preparing ahead of time, my friends…
1. TALK TO YOUR BOSS BEFORE YOU BUY PLANE TICKETS OR MAKE ANY RESERVATIONS.
Checking in like this enables you to plan the trip around any major projects or important deadlines, so it’s less likely that anyone will urgently need your help. (Planning things out also gives you lots of time to look forward to your time away, and that’s a pretty great feeling.)
2. GIVE YOUR COWORKERS PLENTY OF ADVANCE WARNING.
Instead of simply setting up an out-of-office email and changing your voicemail message before you go, give your coworkers a heads-up about your trip as far in advance as possible. As your vacation gets closer, remind them when you’ll be out.
3. DO AS MUCH WORK AHEAD OF TIME AS POSSIBLE.
If your schedule permits, try to take care of a few upcoming projects before you leave. This will make life easier for your coworkers while you’re gone, and if you know those things are taken care of, you won’t have to worry about them being done wrong in your absence.
4. FIND A REPLACEMENT OR TWO.
A week or so pre-vacation, make a list of any ongoing responsibilities that someone else will have to manage while you’re away, and ask a trusted coworker (or a few of them) to take on those projects. In your out-of-office message, spell out who those people are by saying something like, “If you need help with [your duty], please contact so-and-so.” Anyone who steps in as a replacement deserves your appreciation, and you can show it by bringing them back a little “thank you” gift from your travels.
5. BE SPECIFIC ABOUT YOUR AVAILABILITY.
If you can’t completely disconnect from work for whatever reason, make it clear that you’ll only be checking email and voicemail at specific intervals—and force yourself to stick to that schedule. If you’ll be reachable by phone in an emergency, say so, but be very clear about what you consider an emergency. Basic questions can wait.
6. MAKE A DEAL WITH YOURSELF ABOUT HOW OFTEN YOU’LL BE ONLINE.
Some people want to completely unplug while they’re on vacation, but that’s not the right choice for everyone. If you want to avoid checking work email, but still have your phone handy to post envy-inducing vacation pics on Instagram, consider temporarily turning off your email notifications and hiding the icon on a screen you don’t look at much.
7. LET YOURSELF EASE BACK INTO THINGS.
It might be tempting to max out your vacation time by taking a red-eye home on a flight that lands the same morning you’re expected back at work, but if you do, you’ll probably end up hating yourself. Instead, give yourself a little time at home to relax, settle in, and get a good night’s sleep before you have to face your inbox.