Recently, I took a vacation with my family. I announced on my blog that I would be “unplugged” during this time.
Philip wrote to ask me what I found when I returned and how I managed my “reentry.” He said,
When you were out for a week of vacation, and considering you were unplugged, were you presented with an overwhelming stack of issues, problems, emails, approvals when you returned on Monday? If so, how do you approach, prioritize, and “attack” your accumulated tasks? You have tools and strategies for everything else, is there something you differently to get plugged back in after being unplugged?
Actually, my return to work went smoothly. But I’ve been at this for a few years. During that time, I have developed four strategies for managing my after-vacation workload.
- Get caught up before you leave. This is key. Even if you have to work late for a few nights before leaving, you’ll rest better knowing your physical and digital inboxes were empty.
If you have been practicing good e-mail habits along the way, this will not be as overwhelming as it may sound. I actually blocked most of the day prior to my vacation, so that I could focus on completing my desk work. This enabled me to leave work without the slightest bit of guilt or regret.
- Delegate authority to act in your absence. Hopefully, you have already delegated authority as a matter of course. As a good manager, you want to make as few decisions as you can. You want to push authority—and responsibility—down to the lowest level possible.
Typically, I also appoint one of my direct reports to act as my proxy. I send out an e-mail to my immediate team and say something like this. “While I am away, I have authorized Joe to make any decisions that need to be made on my behalf. He has my complete confidence. Whatever decisions he makes will have my support when I return.”
The truth is, most decisions like this can wait. I can’t think of a single instance when anyone had to use this authority. Regardless, the work keeps moving while I am away.
- Set the expectations of your work associates. Make sure that your voice mail and e-mail notify people that you are out of the office and will not be checking messages. Tell them what to do in an emergency. You should also tell them when you’ll return, so they know when to expect a reply.
Also, before you leave, send out an e-mail to your direct reports, key colleagues, and anyone outside the company you are working with closely. Tell them you are going on vacation and that you are going to unplug—for your own good and for theirs.
I used to have a boss that was terrible about this. He was very secretive. He would just disappear. I would get frustrated that he wasn’t responding, only to discover a few days later that he was on vacation. This lack of communication didn’t help either of us.
- Block the first day when you get back to get caught up. This is also very important. No matter how well you prepare, the work is still going to pile up while you’re gone. Hopefully, if you have implemented the previous three steps, you will experience a significant drop in the volume of stuff, but you will still have some.
For example, I normally get more than 100 e-mail messages a day. This is 600-700 a week. But when I returned from my last vacation, I only had 77 messages. I whipped through them on Sunday evening before returning to the office on Monday morning. And, because I had the day cleared, I quickly caught up on the physical paperwork that had accumulated in my inbox.
Like everything else in your work life, a little intentional engineering goes a long way toward simplifying your life and making it manageable.
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