We all need time off to recharge and regain perspective but it’s almost impossible to avoid being contacted when you’re on holiday. Here’s how you can keep working whilst you’re away without burning out.
By Roderic Yapp, Leadership Consultant
Going back a generation, when my father went home from the office that was the end of his working day. There was a clear delineation between work and home life. If he got a call from the office at home, it was an emergency. Otherwise, he was left alone.
Fast forward to today and our working lives are very different. Technology is a great enabler. We can get in touch with people almost immediately, and it can help us to hit deadlines in a way that just wasn’t possible before. But technology is also a double-edge sword, and the boundaries between work and home life have blurred to the point where it can be hard to tell when the working day starts and ends.
It’s now unrealistic for most of us to say we’re totally unreachable even whilst on holiday – especially those of us in senior positions.
Being contactable 24/7 is something we have to deal with. It comes with the territory. But how we choose to deal with work when we’re away is crucial. We all need time off to recharge and rest, otherwise we may burn out. Here are three suggestions that might help you recharge whilst ensuring crucial decisions are still made.
1: Use your time off to develop your key people
Your vacation time is an opportunity. In most teams, you’ll have one or more key people you consider a protégé, or just more organised than others. When you’re away, use this to help them develop their leadership skills – whilst also developing you own.
It’s unrealistic – perhaps even unfair – to dump all your work onto another person whilst you swan off in the sun for two weeks. But you can develop your delegation skills.
Choose someone as your delegated authority. Before you leave, brief them on your workstreams, upcoming deadlines, and any important client or stakeholder meetings. Also tell them what is not urgent that they can leave for you to deal with when you return.
“This is your opportunity to trains someone to step up and fill your shoes.”
This is your opportunity to train that person to step up and fill your shoes. Ask them to run specific client updates whilst you’re not there. Prepare them with what they need to know, then let them take care of it for you, making notes of any questions they can’t answer for you to cover in the following update once you’re back.
This is a healthy habit to get into. It builds some capacity beyond you and increases the skills and experience of key people in your team. By setting them up for success, you set yourself up for success.
That said, there are certain things you simply can’t delegate, so how do you manage these?
2: Develop a process for ‘working’ whilst you’re away
Everyone needs a process for dealing with work when they’re on holiday. They key is to develop something that works for you, that you’re comfortable with, and which allows you the time away from work to recharge. Here are some tools that might be helpful.
First, it’s worth saying that I never put an Out of Office message on whilst I’m away. My clients pay my mortgage, so I never want to be uncontactable, or send out that signal. But I do need time off, so how do I balance these two potentially conflicting priorities?
- I check email and LinkedIn every two to three days.
- Anything I need to read and understand in detail – but is not urgent – I mark as unread and put into a separate folder to deal with on my return.
- Anything where I can respond quickly, I do so. Someone wants to have a video call to catch up on a project? I email back, say I’m currently unavailable, and suggest some times for the call once I’m back.
- I schedule no client calls for my first two days back at work.
I will have work building up in my in tray whilst I’m away. But if I go straight into a client call on 9am on my first day back, I’ll be unprepared and setting myself up for failure. So, every time I have two weeks’ leave I make sure to schedule two days with no meetings on my return. This gives me time to go through my backlog and read through all the work that’s built up and make sure I’m up to speed.
Now, this is all very well. I’m sure you’ve tried developing a process for yourself in the past, though you may have struggled to stick to it. This is where suggestion number three comes in.
3: Stick to your process, using these 3 tips
These are the three things I do to ensure I stick to my process, and I recommend you try them if you haven’t already.
- Time box your work time
If you’re on two weeks’ leave, schedule one hour each week to review your work emails and messages. Be strict with yourself, use an actual timer and put it in front of you when you work. Listen to that timer. Yes it’s ok to take an extra ten minutes or so to finish if you have to, but no more. Otherwise it’s easy for one hour to drift into two, or three – and once you’ve been working for three hours, that’s almost half a day’s leave lost.
- Communicate this clearly to your family and manage their expectations
This may sound a little robotic, but it works. I find a day when we’re not planning to go out until the afternoon, say, and tell my wife that I’ll get up early that day to go through messages between 8am and 9am.
“If your partner comes in at ten past nine to say it’s time for you to stop, then it’s time for you to stop.”
Being clear like this has three benefits. It communicates to your partner or your kids that you’re working during that time, and for them not to disturb you. It manages their expectations and avoid it feeling last minute or unplanned, or that you’re constantly working. And it forces you to keep to the one hour limit. If your partner comes in at ten past nine to say it’s time for you to stop, then it’s time for you to stop. That was your agreement, and you need to stick to it.
- Train yourself to be realistic with what you can achieve in an hour
With a strict one-hour timebox, you’re forced to develop a system of dealing with messages similar to the one I outlined above. You won’t be able to read through long, detailed emails and compose long, detailed replies. Instead, learn to skim read, to respond only to the messages you can respond to quickly, and to identify the actions you can take now, and those you need to park for later.
Making the most of your time off
As I said earlier, it’s unrealistic to be completely unavailable when you’re on holiday. But you must manage your time so that you can stay on top of your work whilst also being able to relax, unwind, and recharge.
Over the last five years, I’ve developed these habits to help ensure I never have to work more than two hours in any two week period of leave. Communicate clearly, delegate effectively, and manage yourself strictly, and you can make this work for you too.