One of the best things about the holidays is the opportunity to disconnect from work, but sometimes that plan can backfire to say the least. Too often, the intended relaxing respite is plagued by intermittent work distractions, early morning or late evening email checks or just the additional mental stress of worrying about the work piling up during the absence. Figuring out how to really disconnect can be a tricky proposition. While there admittedly is no single panacea for this common problem, here are seven specific tips that can be a lifesaver.
Tip #1 – Start the work wind down a few days/weeks prior if possible
It’s so much harder to truly disconnect if you’ve got ten projects running at full blast, then abruptly leave for two weeks. Instead, try to wind down and prepare your work environment for your departure days or even weeks in advance. This might mean trying to wrap up key tasks, reaching key project milestones, delegating work and preparing key clients and colleagues for your time away. Tony Varco Vice President, Convergint Technologies shares,
"Plan in advance for being out and being off. Good planning allows for appropriate disconnects. Communicate early and often to customers and colleagues about your upcoming planned time off, and work with them to find solutions. Set up a buddy system and create specific plans for another colleague or colleagues to take ownership of your projects while you’re away – then trust them to perform well."
Tip #2 – Treat your “in charge” to a really nice lunch before you leave
A key to your being able to really disconnect and enjoy time with family is having an effective in charge who can fill in for you while you’re out of the office. Just leaving a random colleague’s name and contact information listed in your out of office message can be a recipe for disaster. Instead, pick someone who can best represent your work while you’re gone and take the time to treat them to lunch before you leave. The goal for the lunch should be to give them a heads up on your projects, answer as many questions as possible proactively and of course make sure they feel sufficiently appreciated for allowing you to take a well deserved break.
Tip #3 – Share holiday plans/traditions with co workers
When colleagues share a bit about their families and holiday traditions, it helps support work life integration in the best way. Indeed, when colleagues don’t just see your calendar blocked but they’ve also heard you talk about your long awaited family trip to visit extended family in Poland, they become somewhat invested in guarding your holiday vacation time as well. Head of Deloitte’s NextGen leadership development program Cheryl Pinter-Veal suggests,
“Schedule a team call prior to the holidays to share holiday traditions, even encouraging team members to share a photo in advance. This allows for understanding what traditions matter to team members, but more importantly, it shows that you as the manager value commitment to having time off. Leading by example allows team members to be comfortable realizing they can take time off for the holidays.”
Tip #4 – Determine how much you’d actually like to disconnect and develop a plan for that
The truth is that it’s not always realistic to expect to disconnect 100% while you’re out of the office. Possibly, you have a unique role (without a true in charge to back you up), your workload or nature of work may not really support it or maybe you’d just rather check in occasionally to avoid having an avalanche of emails waiting for you when you return. Remember that your disconnection plan is yours so don’t feel peer pressure, guilt or shame about the plan that you choose. Maybe you prefer to review emails a couple days before you return to the office or even carve out time to make a few critical client calls. Your strategy is yours – just be sure you develop a proactive plan and stick to it.
Tip #5 – Encourage your team to proactively discuss vacation ground rules
A key to executing a successful disconnect strategy is to not try to do it all on your own, but instead to also enlist support from your colleagues and family (more on family support in the next tip). Since everyone in the office wants to be able to truly disconnect and enjoy their vacation time as well, taking time to proactively discuss and develop some “vacation ground rules” provides mutual benefit. Initiate that team discussion with the goal of developing a bit of a team pact to help support one another during time away. President and CEO of CDC Foundation Dr. Judy Monroe shares, “One of my previous teams developed some vacation ground rules to help encourage each other to truly disconnect when we were out of the office. One agreement included not responding to emails from colleagues on vacation to gently remind them to disconnect.” Indeed, it’s so much easier for individuals to truly take the time they need and disconnect when the team has already discussed the issue and decided on a plan to support one another.
Tip #6 – Proactively discuss vacation ground rules with your family
It’s also quite helpful to discuss your disconnect plan with your family to ensure you’re all on the same page. Years ago when my family started annual treks to the beach for a week at a time, I sat down with my husband and young kids in advance to discuss the fact that mom would be taking a couple hours on two afternoons to do some work while they played in the pool with dad. I explained to the kids that because I run my own business there’s really no one to do my work for me and there are just a couple important tasks that I needed to take care of so I could fully enjoy the vacation. I also took that opportunity to explain to them that those few hours of work would generate the income to finance a few indoor swim park trips later in the year. A touch of bribery maybe, but it was a great opportunity to help them understand and value the reality of my entrepreneur lifestyle – indeed, some real time work life integration. Be careful though — sharing a specific plan with your family also holds you accountable so don’t be surprised if they call you out for checking email at the beach!
Tip #7 - Don’t graze email throughout the day
The #1 tip to avoid getting sucked into the work vortex while you’re on vacation is making sure you’re not checking email first thing in the morning and then grazing email all day. That’s a perfect recipe for vacation days turning into telework days. Instead, find techniques to avoid checking email constantly. SVP of People at GuideSpark, Colleen Blake shares, “For too many, getting back to “no unread emails” feels like a dopamine fix because responding to emails can be so addictive. I recommend taking extreme steps to avoid feeling tethered to email/work – whether that’s turning your phone WiFi off, choosing destinations without WiFi or deleting apps related to work.” Again, choose tactics that best fit your disconnection strategy. You might choose to leave your phone in a drawer during family activities or maybe check email only at night once family activities have wound down, but the key is to avoid email grazing like the plague.
By Dana Brownlee:
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