How to Take Time Off the Right Way


I took today off work. And two weeks ago, I took a week off. I'm not going to say I'm an expert at taking time off, but I wouldn't argue with you if you surmised that I have mastered the art of how to take time off the right way.

How to take time off the wrong way

You might wonder what I mean by, “taking time off the right way.” One of the best ways to explain it is to highlight how people take time off the wrong way.

They are out of the office but are checking their work email.

I know these people because I've been there. I've done that. It's easy to fall into the trap of just checking in case anything serious comes up. But that check turns in to email management time and suddenly an hour goes by.

They are out of the office but scheduling “just one” work call.

Again, I'm not judging. I've been that guy who had to go get a haircut on their vacation because they couldn't say no to a special video call right in the middle of the week of vacation.

Remind me to tell you the story. I got the haircut but also a facial (chemical peel) – without realizing that's what I had ordered. Ouch!

They are out of the office but give clients their number in case they need something.

I didn't do this, but a friend did. And the entire vacation he was on – a special one at that – was spent negotiating a deal with an enterprise customer who was happy to dial him up.

These are not vacations!

How to take time off the right way

Now, let me start by saying I'm not judging you. You do you. Take your vacation any way you want. I'm simply telling you my own take. And it comes down to four things that I think you have to get right.

You can see what my buddy Carey has to say about the same thing.

First, come home a day early

I know it seems odd to start the list talking about the end. But I find that a day back at home before I have to jump back into things helps me prepare better. Whether it is a day of reviewing email to see what I'm coming back to, or looking at my calendar, the point is that I don't have to do 0-60 in no time. I manage my re-entry as much as I manage my departure.

Second, ease into your vacation

Back in the old days I used to work the same amount of hours I was taking for vacation before I took vacation. If I was leaving for 40 hours, I would end up adding 40 hours of work right before I left. It was horrible!

Sound familiar?

These days I try to wrap up work a whole day before I'm taking off. That gives me a day to relax and start managing the exceptions. I get a full night's sleep.

Sometimes I even splurge for first class flights – which means my vacation starts even before I get there!

Third, remove apps from your phone (or sign out)

I wish I could tell you that I have super powerful discipline when on vacation. But I'm as human as anyone else. So the way I mitigate work jumping into my vacation is I remove Slack from my phone. I remove my work email accounts and calendars from my phone. They're not there for me to glance at.

I can't tell you how powerful it is to do this.

[Tweet “Signing off of Slack and removing work email and calendar accounts can protect you from work interruptions during vacation.”]

It means I'm really off. And let me go on a tangent here for a second that isn't that much of a tangent.

When I go completely dark on vacation, I'm not just relaxing. I'm also demonstrating to the people I lead that it's ok for them to go dark. That no one is so important that we must interrupt their vacation. Rest is required if you want high capacity leaders to get things done when they're working. So prove that you mean it when you tell people to take a break and get away.

Lastly, remind people to make decisions

The worst thing that used to happen when I was on vacation is that every decision would get delayed, “because Chris isn't here.” Maybe I might make a slightly better decision (10%). But it's not like I'm going to make a 90% better decision. And delaying a decision is also a decision. Taking time off shouldn't stop everything from moving forward.

[Tweet “Delaying a decision is also a decision.”]

So encourage the people on your team to make a decision. If it's not perfectly optimal, it will be ok. If it's horrible, you can always reverse it.

In the end, not making a decision sends a different kind of message. When it comes to vacation it tells people they should only take vacation when there are no major decisions to be made. And that's just wrong.

Taking time off the right way gets easier over time

I didn't start taking vacations and modeling how to take time off the right way right away. It took time.

So pick one of these tips and start there. Then add a second. Soon enough, you'll be taking time off like a professional.

You'll enjoy your time off better. And your team will thank you.

Need a vacation recommendation?

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