As much as we all love a good vacation, I have mixed experiences with enjoying them. In 2010, during a much anticipated trip abroad, my return flight from London was cancelled due to an airline strike. Not a big deal to return a day later, right? It wasn’t so simple. No one from my accounting office had been assigned to cover my work, and the month-end close can’t be pushed back. So I spent hours on the phone with the airline figuring out how to get home in time. Thirty-six hours after leaving the UK and dead on my feet, I reported to work.
We often get so caught up in the planning of our time away that we fail to consider what needs to happen at the office while we’re gone. It’s polite to make it as easy as possible for your team to cover essentials while you’re gone, and it reduces your own stress upon return.
Whether your annual vacation time is in the rear view mirror or coming up this fall, most people have the same challenge: How do I get everything done so I can enjoy my time off without leaving the company in a bind?
Tip #1: Take Stock of What Worked
You’ve likely already taken some time off this year, so reflect on what didn’t get accomplished while you were out of the office. What instructions did you leave that were helpful? Did you forget anything important?
Creating a list of what you need to do before leaving is important for every employee and all positions. These systems will be invaluable when there’s a family emergency or unexpected travel delays.
Action Step: Write down three things you would like to do differently for your next time off. Discuss with your colleagues or manager to make sure you’ve covered all the issues.
Tip #2 Plan Ahead
Even if you’ve enjoyed your summer vacation, there’s still work to be done. Vacation systems can be used for regular bank holidays and sick days as well. With Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas approaching, planning now will help in the months to come.
Just like a vacation plan for where you’ll stay, reservations for travel and sites to see, create an itinerary for managing the desk while you’re away. While the pertinent details will differ for each company and employee, start by reviewing:
- clients who may email or call for assistance
- weekly or daily tasks
- packages you’re expecting
- paperwork that needs to be submitted
- meetings you lead or coordinate
- deadlines occurring while you’re away
It doesn’t matter what the position, each person will have responsibilities that need to be covered. The content of your list may be different but the goal is the same.
Action Step: Create a list this week of the regular tasks you do as if you were on vacation and make sure to note which could wait until your return.
Tip #3 Unplug
When it is time for a day off — or even a weekend without checking email — the best way to test this system is to truly unplug. Doing so might reveal some problems: Perhaps your colleagues need more training in the software you use, or maybe there’s no one else who can fix a printer issue. The company will be stronger knowing these weaknesses exist.
The morning I returned from two weeks abroad and faced my desk again I wanted to cry. My inbox overflowing, statements in need of balancing were stacked high, and I had far more tasks than time. While I was able to complete the reports needed for the month-end close and resolve most of the questions that had come up in my absence, the experience taught me to be prepared, in any position, for time off.
Action Step: Take a day off in the coming weeks or, if you can’t, then set aside a full day to work on a project and act as if you’re out of the office. Let your team know you’ll be offline and check in the following day to see if any tasks fell through the cracks while you were “away.”
Vacations are only worth it if you’re actually able to relax and get some time away from work. With a bit of planning upfront, you can ensure you’re able to kick back while also empowering your team.