It's that time of year when many people are gearing up to take some time off. If you're like most people, you will still check your email (this is why smartphones were invented, right?) and may even call into the office.
You tell yourself you're doing this because it's easier to keep up with some work while you're away and then not face an avalanche of emails when you return. You may also tell yourself that it's less stressful to be connected, because that way you can head off any disasters that may happen while you're on vacation.
I get it. I've done the same thing. But I do think you have to have a stern talk with yourself before you go on vacation. You have to be clear about when you will connect with work, and for how long. You also need to be clear with family or friends about your connections, to cut down on the amount of fights/whining/disappointment that can happen when you ruin everyone's vacation with your constant working.
Also, keep in mind that research shows your down time will make you better at your job because it will recharge your creative juices and improve productivity. If you're always connected, then you're actually hurting your career -- and your health. It's also really sad. I once watched a man miss his son learning to swim because he was glued to his smartphone doing work ("Just a minute. Daddy needs to finish this email to his work!" he called to the young boy. The boy, in the meantime, took off swimming for the first time while his brother and mother yelled encouragement.)
1. Provide some early warning. Let your colleagues and clients know that you're taking time off. Send a "for your calendar" email, letting them know that you're going on vacation. Even if you feel like you've told them 10 times, still send a written notice.
2. Prepare your backup. It's not enough to just expect a colleague to pick up your work or assume he or she will be able to locate any important files if necessary. Talk to the colleague weeks before, and start making a "while I'm gone" list. You can't possibly think of everything that needs to be covered on the day before you leave on vacation. The colleague may act like covering for you is no big deal, but he or she will consider it a very big deal when important information can't be located. That's when you start getting panicked calls on vacation, and that's no fun for anyone.
3. Set a schedule. I've received plenty of email messages that not only tell me the contact information for who is covering for the person, but also when the person will check email. (Saying "I will have limited access to email" is a joke -- we all know you have your smartphone by the pool and are checking email all the time.) But if you say, "I will check email every day at 4 p.m.," then that sounds a little more definitive and I really won't expect a response before then.
Also, let me say that your out-of-office messages can make a real difference. Some vague message like "I'll be gone until June 15" isn't really helpful and unless you tell me who is covering for you, the phone number and email of the person. Then, don't be afraid to let your email be a bit more. Here are some examples:
"Hate to break it to you, but I’m actually on vacation until mm/dd and will not be checking emails. I’m sure you probably don’t want to hear this since you’re working yourself, so here’s a cat video to cheer you up. I’ll be back from my trip on [DAY]. Enjoy your week!" (Leaving a cat video is an individual choice -- consider your organization's culture).
"Thank you for your email. I am currently out of the office and will not return until January 15. If this is an urgent matter, please contact Jane Jones at [email and phone number]. Otherwise I will respond to your email as soon as possible after my return."
Or, if you want to intercept people on social media and keep them from ruining your time away, try this one that was used on Twitter: "I'm not in the office right now but if it's important, tweet me using #YOUAREINTERRUPTINGMYVACATION"
The point of all this preparation is so that you truly get the benefits of what a vacation can provide you: a recharge that will reconnect you with family and friends and new experiences. Only you can prevent your job from ruining this important time. Now, pack those sandals and go have fun.