Any visitor to an airport knows that vacation season is finally here! And with it, that pesky voice in the back of your mind as you’re packing your bags:
Well. . . I’ll have to work a little while I’m gone. . .
It’ll only be a tiny bit, just so I’m not overwhelmed when I get back. . .
Sound familiar? According to a recent survey, a staggering 82% of Americans admit to working on vacation. Forfeiting a true vacation is one of those decisions where we perpetually underestimate the cost and overestimate the gain. Merriam Webster defines “vacation” as “a period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation” and “a time of respite from something.” Away and Take a break aren’t things that are happening when you’re monitoring emails, even if you’re poolside.
Downtime is more than a nice-to-have
There is a hidden consequence of soldiering through without a real break: brain fatigue. Many of us treat our brains like our laptops—only unplugging when something breaks down. Otherwise, it’s there, always on, if occasionally in sleep-mode. But science has inarguably demonstrated that recovery time is essential to getting the most out of cognitive capabilities. Without meaningful downtime, we can lose access to the highest order executive functions of the brain—the ones for which we are truly valued and rewarded.
Be bold and leave your email behind
While it may seem radical, the best way to fully unplug is to leave your laptop and your email behind. One person on our team deletes his work email from his phone before leaving so that he’s not tempted just to “scan for a minute.” If you’ve set up a texting protocol with your team in the event of a real emergency, then you can be confident in putting your inbox on a timeout.
Set yourself up for post-vacation success
While there’s no stemming the tide of work while you are away, here are strategies to responsibly unplug and minimize the pain of re-entry:
1–2 weeks before
- Map out how work will move forward in your absence.
- Identify a re-entry buddy—a colleague, manager, or administrator who can help you easily jump back in and schedule a meeting for the first day that you’re back.
- Ask key members of your team to write you a “While you were out” summary memo that captures the highlights of activities and progress that occurred during your vacation.
1 day before
- Set your out-of-office notification. Remember that you can set different messages for internal and external senders. Be clear and brief. Provide an alternative point of contact for time-sensitive issues.
First day back
- Consider coming back one day earlier than your calendar indicates so that you can quietly get caught up.
- Meet with your re-entry partner.
- Read and respond to high priority emails.
- Scan your knowledge management sites or collaboration threads/channels.
With all the endless focus on returning to the office, take some time to consider another kind of return—the return to vacation. Make the most of precious time away and return truly refreshed rather than just differently exhausted. Your brain and your team will thank you for it.