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How to take a vacation & truly leave work behind

Having trouble getting the most out of your time off? Here are some tips which apply particularly to vacations, but can be helpful principles too for having great weekends.

Clear your head before you go.

Schedule at least an hour a week with yourself in the three weeks before to do the following:

  • Brainstorm about all your open projects, deadlines and other stuff on your mind; write it down as you go, either freeform or in a mindmap style if you like something more visual. Look over your calendar for the months before, during, and after your vacation to spark recollection of any other open activities.
  • Once you feel like your head is clear, group the things you wrote down into goals & projects. Identify the next actions in each of them and when they need to be done by. If the deadline is before your trip, schedule when you'll do them. If it's during or in the week after, do them early or delegate them. If they're due more than a week after, but less than a month after, list them in a clear, prioritized way on a piece of paper and set that front & center on your desk as your starting point for your return.
  • Briefly talk over at a high level the status, next actions and upcoming deadlines for your active projects with your boss and/or colleagues who may cover for you while you're gone. If they'll need to cover a lot of new ground in your absence, provide them with a similar sheet listing next steps, goals & deadlines for that project.
  • Place a clearly marked inbox on your desk or chair to receive anything physical coming to you while you're out.

You'll be able to travel knowing that nothing is forgotten - you gave yourself three whole weeks to remember anything known - and that you've prepared others to deal with unknowns within the context of your goals.

I find it also helps to return from vacations on a Wednesday, use the Thursday to recombobulate myself at home & finish unpacking, then spend Friday on processing email &, if I quietly go into the office, any accumulated inbox papers. Say to everyone that you'll be back in the office Monday, but use Friday to get you soundly back on your feet at work, with a weekend as an additional reward for doing so!

One gift you can give yourself before you dive into your inboxes, is an hour or two of high-level, undistracted, newly relaxed thinking about your work, tools and processes. This can be hard to carve out of day-to-day business, so take any opportunity you can to give yourself quality thinking time.

Another great thing you can do on that Friday if you go into the office is look at your space with fresh eyes. Have a large trash can and some bankers boxes brought to your workspace and purge stuff that is not useful, required, or inspiring.

Good luck and have a great vacation!


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