Ah, that good old vacation time of year. Idyllic travel photos and cottage sale posters promise the opportunity of walking hand in hand in the sand while listening to the lapping of waves on the beach.
Other posters enthrall potential travellers with a view of majestic mountains and a tidy campsite beside a body of beautiful still blue water. Other colourful invitations entice customers to think about walking through ancient ruins, churches or castles followed by an afternoon tour through souvenir shops and concluding with a banquet fit for royalty.
No matter what, the advertised photos of vacation opportunities are always focused on fun and excitement and/or tranquil and romantic peace and quiet. The message is, "no work, no worries, no fuss," just days full of fun and play. That's all well and good but does the travel poster provide advice to viewers on how to prepare for their vacation? Do they help you get rid of the stress vacation preparation causes? Do they advise on how to compartmentalize your thinking and prevent those work-related thoughts from jumping into your head? Do they help you to deal with the stress of returning to work? No, I don't think so! So, sorry, you are on your own!
And, that's where good planning comes in. I'm not just talking about leaving for your vacation; I'm also talking about your plan to ease back into work after returning from vacation. Depending on your personality, both of these issues can be very hard indeed.
Let's examine some planning tips before you start your vacation.
Negotiate your dates - meet with your manager and determine the best dates for your vacation. Avoid times when there is a new project launch. Be considerate of both work schedules and your colleagues.... everyone wants some summer vacation.
Block your calendar - if you don't block time off on the calendar, chances are you won't take it. Remind yourself that your vacation is as important as any customer appointment. Blocking off your calendar also allows you to plan for transitioning your workload to a colleague while you are away.
Prepare for delegation - some elements of your work can wait while others can't. Prioritize your tasks and determine to whom you can delegate work tasks. If possible, think about distributing your work to several colleagues rather than transferring to only one person. Delegate the work that doesn't take much additional training and isn't as complex. Plan for this transfer at least two weeks ahead of time so there isn't a rush.
Assign authority - if you're a manager, you need to assign authority while you are on vacation. If there will be more than one person, be clear as to who is in charge for what period of time. Send a communiqu© to your workplace so that everyone is aware of what's what.
Set an "out of office" message - set that "out of office" message so you won't be disturbed and clients are confident their needs will be met. Be sure to indicate who to call during your absence. If possible, delegate someone to monitor your email for urgent issues of concern to your business.
Hold a vacation briefing - just prior to leaving, meet with your boss and colleagues to tie up any loose ends and to alert them to possible issues that might arise during your absence. This will create confidence your work will be well looked after and will set you on the path to relaxation.
Prepare the home guard - there is nothing more annoying than arriving home from a vacation only to find your potted plants all dried up and the grass ten inches long. Make sure you have someone check on your home and do those weekly chores so you aren't overwhelmed and confronted with more stress upon your return.
I sincerely hope you achieve the vacation you've set for yourself because returning back to work can be just as stressful. Frankly, I didn't really appreciate this issue until I personally encountered some of my own challenges. Keep in mind that going back to work represents more of a change than you think and this can throw us into an unexpected frenzy. So, here are some planning tips that helped me get through my "back to work" stress.
Schedule a home day - plan for at least one day back at home prior to returning to work. Take note of what work needs to be done at home but don't jump into doing all the chores at once. If you do, you'll be tired before you even start to think about work. Get to bed early and have a good night's rest.
Arrive early and share - everyone will be anxious to hear about your vacation. Share photos with colleagues and relay some of your vacation highlights. Place a photo album in a common area for people to review. Post a photo in your workspace to help you reflect on your vacation. Bring a physical reminder and place it on your desk as often touching a remembrance of the trip will reduce stress.
Meet your delegated authority - meet as soon as you can to get the highlights of activities and priorities you will need to address. Take time to reacquaint yourself with the various projects. Avoid setting too many meetings and/or activities on the first day, instead, listen and learn.
Take it easy - it's hard to take your mind off vacation and focus on priorities, so give yourself some slack. If you work in an office, start with a quiet reading task that will bring you up to date. For others, perhaps reacquaint yourself with a procedure manual so that you can put that workflow back into your mind. These small tasks will create a sense of accomplishment and will boost your mood.
Develop a workplan -- plan out the rest of your week both at work and at home. The more control you can have over your first week back at work, the better you'll feel. Avoid overloading yourself. Move slowly toward the more complex tasks that will require more time.
Seek out a new project -- there's nothing like a new project to get your adrenalin going. Investigate what changes or opportunities have become available while you were on vacation. Determine what might interest you and try to get involved. A new work period, a new project will do the trick!
Retain a positive mindframe - if you dread returning to work and your vacation hasn't created peace of mind, then I suggest you have another problem. Perhaps it's time to make a change. Otherwise, you need a positive mindset in order to quickly get back into the "groove" of your workplace.
While vacations are thought of as a stress-free world of "no work, no worries, no fuss," the stress leading up to your holiday and the stress experienced upon return to work can be quite overwhelming. Be aware of this and prepare.
Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, M.Ed., is president of Legacy Bowes Group.