I recently took off for two days and I didn’t email, call, text, or Slack my team or my clients. Not once. And no, I didn’t leave my phone at home.
In modern agency life, it seems impossible to take a vacation without taking work with you, but it can be done. Here’s how:
Step One: Make the decision.
Every colleague that has talked to me about an upcoming vacation in recent years has included a comment to the effect of, “But I’ll be available if you need me.” So, vacation but not really.
Here’s the problem: Taking a vacation while “being available” isn’t taking a vacation. It’s working remotely at best, and working badly remotely at worst. There’s virtually no way to guarantee you’ll actually be available when you’re needed.
See below for examples of bad things that can happen when you go on vacation but not really on vacation.
Important Bullet Point List
- Missed deadlines
- A whole lot of unnecessary stress
- Shaken confidence in those continuing to deliver great work in your absence
See how I bulleted that out so you’ll see how important those outcomes are, and why you should avoid them?
So, you have to make the decision: you’re on vacation, or you’re not.
Step Two: Communicate early, often, and then not at all.
A month before my vacation, I reached out to every client and let them know I’d be gone for two weeks. I let them know the plan for coverage on deliverables and communications while I would be out, and helped them plan for workarounds where needed.
Then, I created a handover document—a list of ongoing deliverables, forthcoming deadlines, and other commitments that the team would need to pick up in my absence. I assigned specific owners, shared the document with every person mentioned in it, and walked them through it in 1:1 sessions during the two weeks before I left on vacation.
I also made sure to let everyone know: I’d be gone. Like gone-gone. I’d be off WiFi and unable to access data networks for large portions of my overseas trip, and therefore wouldn’t even be available for what seemed like urgent questions.
The day I left, I set my out of office responder to “On vacation and off the grid.” I gave an alternate contact from our team, and I left my laptop (gasp!) at home.
I was out.
Step Three: Check, but don’t check in.
I fully admit to checking email during a couple of odd moments when I had WiFi access during my vacation. And I even moved a lot of them—hundreds, actually—into folders in order to avoid having those emails waiting for me when I got back home.
But I didn’t respond. I didn’t check in. I didn’t ask the team how I could help with random questions from the client, offer advice, or inject myself into the conversation. Because I knew they could manage just fine without me. And I would only cause unnecessary confusion (see Important Bullet Point List above).
More importantly, I would undermine my own team’s ability to get things done in my absence. I’m an asset to my team, but I’m not indispensable, any more than anyone else is.
There are a lot of reasons that people go on vacation without fully going on vacation. Ultimately, it’s about the fear of seeming like we’re not valuable enough in the eyes of our colleagues or employers.
As someone who has worked for, with, and in charge of other people for years, I can decisively say that I’ve never once thought someone was being irresponsible for taking the vacation they’d earned. Why would I think they felt any differently about me?
Besides, if I didn’t check out, I would have missed some pretty sweet memories. Like staring at impossibly tall mountains across a crystal-clear lake in the middle of nowhere in Africa.
And not thinking about work.