Read This Before You Head Out on Vacation

There's great fanfare when the space shuttle launches — but far less when it returns. The same is true about your vacations. And like the space shuttle, you too are likely to experience the friction of reentry upon your return. To avoid burning up entirely, the space shuttle needs to maintain a proper reentry angle as it travels through the atmosphere, and it needs to wear a protective coating of heat tiles. Metaphorically speaking, you too need to don the right protective gear and manage your reentry angle so that your return goes smoothly.

Having just returned from vacation with a very manageable reentry to work, I offer the following angles and protective gear to keep you from burning up as you hit the sometimes cruel atmosphere of Monday morning following your vacation.

  1. Clear the decks. At least a week before you ever leave, take steps to ready all your commitments for your absence, so you really can be away while you're gone. My friend and productivity expert David Allen calls this "having clean edges to your commitments." This should go without saying but nevertheless let me say it: Let key people know you will be on vacation. Make sure that all your projects are paused or can continue on to the next step without your involvement. And here's the kicker: Get your e-mail and voice-mail inboxes down to zero messages. I don't mean everything has to be done (that never happens). Simply that you've put all of your messages in some proper place so that they're ready for action upon your return.
  2. Allow yourself to check in. This may sound like it will defeat the purpose of taking a break, but hear me out. I'm not suggesting that you work throughout your vacation, but rather that you check in with the office in a limited and orderly way — say, 30 minutes in the early morning or late evening. Don't get sucked into anything. Simply do a scan of critical topics, reply with a short e-mail or quick call if need be, and let people know you'll address the matter as soon as you return. Screening e-mails in this way will make the reentry process so much smoother without taking any substantive time from vacation (though if you're traveling with children as I do, getting this done a half hour before they awaken or after they go to bed will ensure that you are not "that parent" glued to your smartphone). Sure, some things could potentially arise that occupy your mental shelf space. But that's probably unavoidable at any rate, if you're the kind of person who reflects on your professional life or career during some parts of your vacation. At least in this way, you'll take control over the situation. Taking an occasional brief call during a vacation is easy on your traveling companions if you're focused and in the moment the rest of the time. As a mentor of mine, Alan Weiss, has always said: You don't have a work life and a personal life --you have one life. All parts are integrated, especially in today's environment. Use that to your advantage to make your return that much easier.
  3. Unpack from your trip as soon as you get home. Letting your bags linger about creates mental clutter, and adds one more thing you have to do. Unpacking and putting your things away is an important physical step in getting back into a groove and operating smoothly. So unless you are a road warrior and live out of a suitcase, put your stuff away, even if you arrive home in the evening. Then, when you get back home on Monday evening, you can relax.
  4. Don't schedule meetings for the first half day. If you can come back a day early to unpack, get the laundry done, and clean out your e-mail, all the better. But most of us want to extract as much time as possible from a vacation and arrive home on Sunday. So at a minimum, do your best not to schedule any meetings between 8:00 a.m. and noon on your first day back. You're going to need that time to deal with any emergent situations and simply catch up on the backlog of the prior week.
  5. Bring part of your vacation back with you. I'm not talking about souvenirs, though there is absolutely nothing wrong with stuff you buy on vacation. I'm talking about the feeling of being on vacation. If it helps, look at your pictures before or after dinner on your first day back. Talk about the experiences you had with your family, colleagues, and friends, and relive the highlights. I talk with too many leaders within a day or two of their vacations who say "It seems like weeks-ago already since I went away" because they didn't do anything to cement the experience. You'll have time for this if you do step number three.
  6. Have your next vacation already planned. Or if not entirely planned, at least have the time blocked off on your calendar already. Or at the very least have a sense of where you're going next and some timetable for doing so. Part of the reentry burn comes from the feeling we have that something good has ended. Take the edge off by giving yourself something to look forward to.
Do these things and, by dinner time of your first day back at work, you can be basking in the afterglow of a great vacation instead of being singed by the afterburn of a bad reentry.
This entry was posted in Career, Leadership. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.