Valley’s own Employee Behavioral Health Advocate, Dani Dutro, LMHC, outlines some useful tips for how to truly unplug when you take time off and put the “vacate” in vacation. Dani notes that the word “vacation” comes from the Latin word “vacare,” which means “to be unoccupied.” In today’s world, humans are not particularly good at being unoccupied. This can be extra difficult when you’re trying to relax on a vacation, but you can’t stop thinking about the stressful things waiting for you back at work. To help reduce stress as you approach your upcoming time off, follow her great tips and set yourself up for success.
Make a List | A few weeks before you go on vacation, make a list of things that must be done before you go. Once you have your list, show it to your manager and get their feedback. This will give you a mutually-agreed-upon priority list to focus on. Other tasks may pop up before you leave, but unless they’re essential, you already know where your priorities should be. If you plan to take a week off, start this list at least two weeks before your vacation. If you plan to take two weeks off, start a month in advance.
Send Out the Word | Make sure that anyone who is affected by your absence knows you will be gone and that you plan to unplug. If appropriate for your job, you can even change your email signature in the weeks leading up to your vacation and include a note about the upcoming dates you will be gone. Some people worry that being out of reach may damage their working relationships, but research finds that setting this boundary can actually put people more at ease and help to strengthen your relationship.
Establish a Handoff | Most of the time, someone else is going to have to cover your workload while you’re away, so identify these people early. Figure out who can best handle each part of your job while you’re away and ask them to cover while you’re out. For further benefit, offer to do the same for them when they go away on vacation. When you return, send them a follow-up email thanking them for their help. It can be additionally helpful to send out an email before you leave, to those affected, outlining who is responsible for any tasks or issues that may come up, so they know who to contact.
Straighten Up Your Work Area | I know the last thing you want to do before you go on vacation is clean up your desk, but it can really make a difference. Clutter can increase stress, so if you’re able to come back to a more organized environment, it will help to ease your return. This is a form of setting up your future self for success!
Compose Your Out of Office Message | Setting an out of office message while you’re on vacation encourages others to message you when you return if it’s still relevant. It also allows you to let people know who is covering for you and allows you to set expectations around your time off. Another tip is to put the return date in your out of office message as a day or two after your actual return date. This allows you time to ease back into work and take time to get caught up with emails and juggle priorities upon your return.
During Vacation | This is your chance to really recharge, so set an intention for your time away. Decide that you will focus on feeling more joyful, energized, or calm, and unplug from technology. Take walks, smell the fresh air, swim in a lake—whatever you can do to engage your senses and be present. Another important thing to remember is that this vacation is about you, so even though you’ll want to spend time with your family, make sure you have at least a little time for just you.
Returning to Work | It’s important to remember that you do not have to return to work, plug back in, and be immediately buried by your tasks. You do not have to handle everything immediately. In fact, taking the first 30 minutes of your return to piece through what is on your plate, reset your priorities, and make a plan for yourself can make a big difference. Check in with those key people to see what you missed and discuss what most urgently needs your attention. Thank those who covered for you, check in about their experience, understand what they had to take care of, and see whether there is anything urgent that needs your attention. Lastly, create a plan for checking your email that may reduce your stress. Begin by looking through priority emails, like those from your boss, close contacts, and colleagues. Then, begin getting rid of things like newsletters, or emails will a significant number of replies in the thread that are no longer relevant.
Check in With Yourself | Once you’ve gone through the process, check in with yourself. Are you still fulfilling the intention you set for your vacation? Are you feeling more joyful, energized or calm? Take a few moments to remember the best experiences of your trip. When you do this, it will start to counteract some of the stress that returns when you get back to work. Lastly, it’s important to remember that you deserve a break. You deserve vacation and time away—you earned it, so try not to let the stressors of work interrupt your ability to take a break.