Last week, we listed the challenges of being on vacation and not being interrupted by work. Even if your employer is supportive of not disturbing its employees while they are out of the office, it does not mean that taking a vacation does not have strings attached. What happens to many people is that they either have to get things “wrapped up” before leaving, and / or have a massive pile of work awaiting upon return.
In other words, there is a chance of being fried and run down prior to going on a trip, and / or dreading coming back to face a gauntlet. There is a good chance the first few days of your trip could be spent unwinding instead of enjoying your “free” time. I have had the “privilege” of enduring the following in my career:
- Not sleeping prior to leaving at 6:00 am for a week long trip. Work was so busy the prior week that I had no time to even do laundry or pack until the window of 1:00 am – 6:00 am, which naturally was also filled in with more work.
- On the phone and answering emails during a layover prior to an international flight (technically, I had already been on vacation for several hours at this point). I still remember thinking to myself as I was walking to the gate (and still on the phone), that this was utterly ridiculous.
The above points are not a “brag”, but a sad reality of what we sometimes allow ourselves to be burdened with. Since I still have the scars, I am fondly aware of the stress and frustration this can create.
Some of the best things to do avoid being stretched too thin are things you should do in general, such as:
- Ignore unnecessary emails (your time is valuable, don’t let others steal it).
- Avoid meetings that are not utterly critical.
- Schedule time for your own projects in advance.
- Let people know when or if you can realistically get to something, perhaps they can get creative and find other avenues to finish something.
- Be part of a good team (this one makes a world of difference).
Let’s look at the bookends of the vacation and how to manage them more specifically.
The upcoming time off may serve as a catalyst to finish certain projects. This can be self-driven or come from colleagues and supervisors. First of all, you have to accept that there is a finite amount of time. In general, life will go on, not getting every single thing done may not be the end of the world.
As with any other day / week / month not near a vacation, it comes down to prioritization. The only difference now is that there will be block of time where you will not be available, and some things will be on hold. The best way to manage this is to communicate with all parties and not to let others over-schedule your workload. Unless you are working on a major project, starting to plan 2 weeks out should be more than enough time.
Upon returning from vacation, there is usually a lot to catch up on, and it’s possible that many people are vying for your attention. In addition, once you fire open up your email, you might have something like this starring you in the face:
Unless people stopped emailing you while you were away, there are probably a lot of emails, many of which are probably not critical. Here are some tips to handling them:
- First, ignore all of them, schedule some short meetings with key people (supervisor, colleagues, direct reports) and get the cliff notes of the more important things.
- Next, sort emails by either subject or sender and move the ones that don’t look critical to another folder (think of it as optional to ever look at that folder again).
- Knowing the key events that occurred in your absence, now you can begin addressing the remaining items.
The other part of returning from time off is to schedule time for yourself, don’t feel guilty because you have been away. Feel free to leave on time, if the place is still standing, despite your absence, it can possibly survive another day.