In the era of remote work and cell phones, time off from work can end up just working at weird hours or from a scenic location (or both). Truly getting the nourishing breaks we need can be super challenging unless we make sure we’ve planned how we can unplug and really get away from the daily grind. Some quick tips that I find helpful:
Make it so your work or practice can run without you
Getting your systems in place to have things happen even while you’re away is a great task for anyone, even if they are only keeping the wheels turning while you sleep or unplug for the weekend. BUT, if you’d like to keep things flowing while you’re away for a longer respite, make sure you’ve got those systems in place. Automate scheduling, get an assistant who is up to speed and can follow up on routine emails or requests, and make sure that you’ve documented anything that “only you” can do. Create redundancies so you don’t always have to be available to get the important things done.
Get Coverage for while you’re away
The corollary to having things run smoothly without you – get coverage when you’ll truly be away. This can be a trusted colleague or direct report who you know can field some of the questions you normally do. This can also be an opportunity to work on their autonomy and empower them to make decisions that they don’t really need to run past you anymore. For folks with clients who may have emergent needs while you’re gone, have a system so your clients know who to contact in your absence AND they feel confident that they will be taken care of. (And so you feel confident that they will be taken care of.)
Set up a communication strategy, so you’ll only be contacted if something is on fire
Even with all of these systems in place, many leaders or entrepreneurs find that they can’t truly unplug because they are the one responsible if something has gone horribly wrong. While we do need to be available when the stuff hits the fan, that doesn’t mean that we need to be constantly checking our emails or voicemails to check that is hasn’t. If you have an assistant or colleague who is covering your communication, that is ideal. Let them know specifically what requires you and what they can manage. If you don’t have one of these gatekeepers, make sure your out of office messages are very clear for how to get ahold of you in an emergency. Talk to clients or colleagues about what actually constitutes an emergency so you’re not getting calls because someone can’t find that one document they need for something that isn’t due for at least 3 weeks after you return.
Don’t check anything unless you absolutely have to
At first, being unplugged from the steady stream of messages and emails will be anxiety provoking. Acknowledge that it is hard to not know what is going on. Allow yourself to sit in the anxiety until it passes. And then – keep yourself in the present moment of your current situation. Refocusing on what you’re doing with your time away will help you to get the space you truly need from work. Life fills in, so the vast open spaces that time off from work provides will be filled with fun activities, family commitments, or both. This space from thinking about work is crucial. Creativity and resilience are in the balance. We only regain creative capacity when we take real time away from the daily grind. If you allow this time away from work worries, you will return more productive and ready to go.
Give yourself permission to enjoy the creativity, and then put it away
If you truly enjoy or even love what you do, the time away from work may initially feel like you’re missing out and are only able to manage recuperation. However, once you’ve unplugged for a bit, you’ll soon be thinking new creative thoughts or becoming clearer on your priorities. The worry here is that you might either completely dive into work mode (I’ve got this great idea! Let’s flesh it all out and get the work started!!) OR that you’ll try to stuff these thoughts away (Don’t think about work! Don’t think about work!!). Neither is helpful as it will just create pressure related to work that increases anxiety and diminishes the benefits of your vacation. Further, you might keep iterating on the ideas or rehearsing the thoughts, so you can remember them later. Instead, keep a journal or a notebook to record these ideas or insights. Give yourself permission to fully document the initial thoughts so you can return to them when you are back at work. Use this journal as a tool to capture brilliance that you’ll want access to later, but definitely put it away when you’ve finished to keep work from truly invading your time away.
Get Support if You Just Can’t Take Time Away!
If you’re reading all of this and say, that’s great, Katie, but there is no way I can do this – please reach out to a trusted advisor to help get some of these systems in place. Everyone deserves time off. All of us are much stronger workers when we have some time to truly unplug. If you’re stuck in the day-to-day of things, you may not see any options. Please get another perspective – you need time off most of all.
In fact, I’d love to support you if I can. I love helping busy professionals getting time away from work. If you’d like to pick my brain on your particular situation, please don’t hesitate to schedule some time on my (automated) calendar: Katie’s Calendar