How Not to Go AWOL (Absent Without Leisure)

Dear Debra: I get so stressed out planning to leave work for vacation and check in so constantly while I’m gone that by the time I finally unwind, vacation’s almost over, and then of course when I get back to the office I’m snowed under the pileup.  How can I make leaving and returning to the office after vacation less stressful?

1. Plan Your Jail Break. Start preparing three weeks before vacation. Most people wait until the Monday before a Friday departure, then they’re frantically trying to tie up loose ends while the flight attendant is calling final boarding.  Brief coworkers on issues likely to come up, let people know specific tasks you want them to handle, and supply contact emergency information.  Set your phone and computer with auto-messages stating how long you’ll be away and contact information for the person pinch-hitting in your absence.    

2. Don’t Leave ‘Em Guessing:  Are you throwing up an unconditional “Do Not Disturb” firewall between yourself and the office, do you want to make yourself available in certain circumstances, or will you check-ins daily? Make your boundaries clear, THEN KEEP THEM. Try cutting the cord; technology makes it too tempting check your BlackBerry when you could be profitably sipping a mai tai or reading the latest thriller poolside.  

3. Buck the Trend. There’s no rule that says you have to return from vacation on Monday, the most dreaded work day. Plan for a Tuesday or Friday return. There’s a mysterious but reliable psychological advantage to easing yourself back into the grind by returning on atypical work days; you’ll also score more advantageous travel and lodging rates in the bargain!

4. Give Yourself a Buffer Zone. Plan to return home 24 hours before you’re due back at the office. If you’re due back at work at 8 a.m. Tuesday, plan your return flight so that you arrive home late Sunday night. Use this buffer zone to relax, download photos, catch up with friends, maybe do some laundry—not to answer your backlog of office emails. Hey, you’re still on vacation!

5. Practice Triage. Upon returning, arrive an hour early so you can fly through emails undisturbed.  Change your away auto-messages. Read emails in reverse order—from most recent to latest; older issues may have been resolved already. Prioritize the top three most pressing issues; tackle them first.  When a frazzled coworker rushes into your office with a drummed-up non-emergency, smile and say, “Looks like you could use a vacation!”

Read more advice in my book, Ambition Is Not A Dirty Word: A Woman's Guide to Earning Her Worth and Achieving Her Dreams (Random House / Broadway Books).

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