Vacations are fun, but they come at a cost. Studies show that many people enjoy the idea of a vacation but hate the stress of returning to work. The hassle of carving out time in their busy schedule to get away then catching up when they get back almost makes it not worth the effort.
As much as people want to take a vacation and businesses provide time off as part of their benefits package, in the U.S., many never actually make the move to take one. Statistics from Project Time Off indicate that more than half of American employees had remaining vacation days at the end of the year. What can you do before and after a vacation to ease the stress and enjoy a few days of relaxation?
The most efficient approach is to break your vacation planning into three distinct sections:
Focus pre-vacation planning on the things you do to get ready mentally and at work to prepare for the time off.
You work eight hours or more, either at the office or from home, then transition into family mode and maybe have an hour to sit and breathe at the end of the day. You’ll need to find ways to institute more relaxation time into that busy day before leaving for a trip, so your attempt to destress on vacation doesn’t shock your system.
Begin in the morning. You might get up a little earlier and spend 10 minutes meditating, doing breathing exercises, or stretching your muscles. Really think about what it will feel like to be free from work. The relaxation prep will energize you at work as you prepare to take the time off.
Get the message out at work. Tell colleagues and clients you will be out of touch for many days. Give them your vacation schedule and remind them again as you get closer to the date. It will help you avoid any last-minute confusion.
Develop a plan that allows you to hand off the things that will need attention while you’re away. Who is going to manage the daily reports, for example? Who is in charge of your clients while you are gone? Make a list of your key responsibilities and who is tasked with them, so both you and your boss know things are managed while you are gone.
Make a to-do list of things to complete at work before leaving and prioritize it. You don’t want to leave the critical jobs for the last couple of days.
Put straightening up as the last item on your list. You’ll add to your stress if you go on vacation with your workspace in disarray. Declutter as you work on each task, then clean off the desk entirely on the last day.
Put together an “out-of-office” message for your phone and email system that tells anyone who attempts to contact you that you are unavailable and directs them to who they can call instead.
The better organized your vacation, the less stress you will feel as you plan it.
As you put together the itinerary, don’t lose sight of the fact that vacation is for relaxing. If you schedule every minute of your time away, all you will do is stress as you try to stick to the schedule.
Instead, organize your trip in groups of time, giving yourself and your family some breathing room.
It’s the little things that can mess up your travel plans. Break the trip down into the various stages:
Research each to make sure you are not missing something. Let your travel partners and family help with this, so you are not overtaxing yourself. The more you know, though, the smoother things will go. Something may still go wrong, but you’ll have a better idea of how to handle it if you do your homework.
Luggage is a necessity, too much, though, and it becomes a stress trigger. Make a list of things you absolutely need and stick to it. If you are traveling with kids, make a list for them, too, and supervise their packing.
Good communication is the key to all things including destressing on vacation. How will everyone sync together during the trip? Smartphones, walkie-talkies, whatever you decide, make sure everyone has the necessary tools to keep in touch.
Careful planning will allow for a smooth transition back to the office after vacation, as well.
Take one day between returning from the trip and heading back to work. Reentry is one of the most challenging tasks and not something you have to jump back into immediately. The best course of action is to give yourself that one day. The break between vacation and the return to work will allow you to catch up on your sleep, get organized at home, and get back to your normal routine feeling refreshed and ready to work.
You know there will be lots of tasks that need your attention. Plan to take 30 minutes to an hour to acclimate yourself and make a list of priorities. What emails need your attention right away, what calls need to be returned – that sort of thing.
Talk to the people who were covering for you first, too. See what information they can provide, so they don’t contact you with a fire you have to put out while you are still trying to organize your thoughts. Talk to one person at a time to get a clear picture of what needs your attention.
When you feel overwhelmed at work, stop for a minute and think about something that was extraordinary about your vacation. You can use that memory to relax your mind and improve your focus as you catch back up.
Who gets hurt if you don’t take a vacation? The only people that suffer are you and your family. You deserve that time off. It’s your right, so don’t let another year go by without taking it. Plan ahead so you can enjoy time away from work without all the stress.
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