First, there is no such thing as a working vacation. You are either immersed in your leisure time, or you are pretending to be while you try to work out those nagging issues in your head. The latter tends to irritate your spouse or children as they would like to see you enjoying the vacation as much as they are. Ducking away to answer emails, make conference calls etc. only detracts from your primary purpose, relaxation and enjoyment.
I’ve found it almost impossible to totally disconnect the two (work and leisure) but I have discovered a few ways to limit or minimize the distraction of work while on vacation. Keeping in touch with work, at least minimally, helps me to relax and enjoy my vacation in some ways as it reassures me that things aren’t imploding in my absence. They never implode in reality, but I’m a worrier by nature and can’t keep that fear from nagging at me while I’m away.
So here are five things that I do to help myself relax on vacation, while maintaining cognizance of what’s happening back at the salt mines.
1. Go light. I don’t carry a big laptop, lots of files, or anything heavy with me on vacation. Heavy laptop equals heavy workload. I usually only carry my work phone (iPhone) and a mini iPad. That ensures that I don’t get involved in developing huge spreadsheets of data because it’s just too inconvenient. I can look at the data you sent and comment, but I can’t do the heavy lifting myself. It also contributes to the “I can check in, but nothing more” mindset.
2. Set aside specific time late in the evening or very early in the morning to process emails or actions. Ideally this is before everyone else gets up or has gone to bed. This is inconvenient for me, but convenient for everyone else. If I feel a need to do a little work it shouldn’t interfere with anyone’s play time. Be flexible also. If an unexpected fun activity breaks out in the evening, don’t excuse yourself to go work. Just figure that you’ll be up a little earlier catching up in the morning.
3. Delegate well. This actually helps to eliminate a lot of the clutter that normally takes up your time. A great deputy or stand-in back at the office can deal with the large majority (if not all) of the daily tasks that consume your time. This allows you to focus on the few things that might really need your input or that your stand-in doesn’t feel comfortable doing on their own. Resist the urge to jump in a conversation that your deputy is handling, that’s what they are there for. You can read it so that you feel informed, but just don’t try to work it for them. Your primary purpose is vacation after all.
4. Glance at emails when you can. This helps you delete, delete, delete all of the email clutter you get so you aren’t faced with a huge pile of reading at some point. Clear the crap during the day in short bursts and that will reduce the “special time” you need in the evening to stay on top of things. Step away from the group to do this. No one wants to see you fiddling with your phone when you should be enjoying their company.
5. Misspell a lot. That lets folks know you are on vacation and typing on a little phone and subconsciously reduces the number of times they bother you with stuff they should have taken care of anyway.
Vacation entails a loss of control over your work environment and this can be a difficult detachment. It’s especially hard if you are a control freak. I try to think of it as a different kind of work opportunity. A way to clear myself of the minutia of the daily grind to focus on the big picture items. A time to let my mind wander around with different stimuli and discover the solutions that never would have appeared in my normal course of business. Relaxation also helps me to rededicate myself to do a better job when I return. Vacation is good, I highly recommend it.