While waiting at the airport to pick up family who were returning from a recent vacation, I couldn’t help but overhear the couple sitting next to me in the international arrivals area talking about their upcoming plans. They were waiting for their daughter to return from her year studying abroad and were excited that once she’d arrived they would then be heading off on a family cruise. The woman of the couple chided her husband, who had not looked up from his phone the entire time, saying, “I just want this vacation to be a ‘real’ vacation this year.” To which he annoyingly replied, “What does that mean?” and she simply sighed and said, “No checking emails, answering work emergencies, no phones—no work! I want it to be a real vacation: just the three of us spending time together and enjoying ourselves.”
When was the last time you had a “real” vacation? One that gave you the chance to take a break from the chronic state of being overworked and overwhelmed that most of us experience on a daily basis, and just enjoy being away? If you’re like most people, it’s probably been way too long.
Without a break from the daily bombardment we experience each and every day, our mind and body have no time to recover from the high levels of constant stress hormones that drive our fight-or-flight response. Being in a chronic state of stress impacts our physical and mental well-being, disrupts our overall life balance, and leaves us feeling like one day is no different from another. The negative impacts are long lasting to our overall health, relationships, and productivity in the long term.
Isn’t it time you considered taking the time for a real vacation this year, even if it’s only a “staycation” or a weekend away? It doesn’t matter if you indulge in a long trip to a wonderful faraway destination, a short weekend away pursuing a passion, or spending the day on the beach. What is important is that you do things that calm your mind, decrease your stress level, and enable you to relax so that when you return you have a more well-balanced approach to work and life.
Here are 3 tips that will help you carve out the time to relax and completely unplug from the work world.
1. Select An Understudy
Great actors have them so why not you? Select someone to be your understudy and go on in your place while you’re away. This isn’t only a great idea for vacation—you should always have someone who you’ve got standing in the wings for you and is prepared to step in should you need them. Be sure to brief them before you leave, however, and let others know that while you’re away they will be covering your meetings, calls, and any critical situations that come up. Your understudy should be the only one who knows how to reach you in the event that there is a real emergency—if they really need you they’ll call, and my hunch is that they won’t.
2. Use Your Out-Of-Office Message
Out-of-office messages help those you care about know that you haven’t fallen off the face of the earth, and have decided to take a well-deserved break, so use it. Make sure that you say in your message that you don’t have access to email during this time frame, and don’t answer any emails while away—it only confuses other people. Include your understudy’s contact information, the dates you’ll be away, and what others will handle while you’re away. If you really want to push the limits, you can create some email rules that send certain emails directly to your understudy and others to a folder called “upon my return.” This way when you get back in the office on day one, you won’t be faced with 800-plus emails in your inbox, have a panic attack, and undo all the gains from your vacation. Once you’re back in the groove, you can scan at your own pace what’s already been handled and what might need a response, and to be honest, what you’ll find is that most of what’s there can be just deleted wholesale—either because it’s been handled or isn’t relevant.
3. Airplane Mode Is A Life Saver
The goal of the vacation is to disconnect from the technology and reconnect with yourself, others, and your surroundings. If going cold turkey, turning off the phone, and not checking email is going to cause major withdrawal symptoms—the kind that will make you anxious without a fix of email—then start off slowly by committing to only checking email once a day late in the afternoon, and only for 30 minutes, and when you’ve got to be somewhere else at the end of the timeframe. Leave the phone and other devices in airplane mode, and turn off all notifications at all other times. Avoid checking in the morning—it’s too much like being at work, and the familiarity will trigger your existing patterns of behavior, roping you back in.
I hope you’ll consider taking a “real” break from the daily grind when you go away this summer, and spend the time doing things that enliven your spirit and build your relationship with yourself and others. Trying this might be a bit challenging at first, but I think you’ll find that it is really worth the effort. I have to admit that I find this challenging myself, so this year I’ve decided to take my own advice and go cold turkey. Wish me luck.