Any visitor to an airport knows that the holiday season is finally here! And with that, that pesky voice in the back of your mind as you pack your bags:
Good . . . I’ll have to work a little while I’m gone. . .
It will only be a tiny bit, just so I don’t get overwhelmed when I get back. . .
Sound familiar? According to a recent survey, a staggering 82 percent of Americans admit to working during the holidays. Foregoing a real vacation is one of those decisions where we perpetually underestimate the cost and overestimate the gain. Merriam Webster defines “holiday” as “a period spent away from home or business in travel or leisure” and “a time of respite from something”. A way and Respite don’t happen when you’re monitoring emails, even if you’re poolside.
Downtime is more than a pleasure
There is a hidden consequence of persevering without a real break: brain fatigue. Many of us treat our brains like our laptops – only unplugging when something breaks down. Otherwise, it’s there, always on, even if it’s in standby mode occasionally. But science has unquestionably demonstrated that recovery time is essential to get the most out of cognitive abilities. Without meaningful downtime, we can lose access to the highest executive functions of the brain – those for which we are truly valued and rewarded.
Be bold and leave your email behind
While it may seem drastic, the best way to completely unplug is to leave your laptop and email behind. Someone on our team deletes his work email from his phone before leaving so he won’t be tempted to “scan for a minute”. If you have a protocol in place for sending text messages with your team in the event of an actual emergency, you can be sure to put your inbox on hold.
Prepare for success after the holidays
While it’s impossible to stem the tide of work while you’re away, here are strategies for responsibly disconnecting and minimizing the pain of re-entry:
1 to 2 weeks before
- Plan how the work will progress in your absence.
- Identify a back-to-school friend – a colleague, manager, or administrator who can help you get back to school easily and schedule a meeting for the first day of your return.
- Ask key members of your team to write you a “While You’re Away” summary note that summarizes the highlights of activities and progress that occurred during your vacation.
1 day before
- Set your out of office notification. Remember that you can define different messages for internal and external senders. Be clear and brief. Provide another point of contact for urgent issues.
First day back
- Consider coming back a day earlier than your schedule indicates so you can catch up on it leisurely.
- Meet your back-to-school partner.
- Read and respond to high priority emails.
- Analyze your knowledge management sites or collaboration threads/channels.
With all the endless focus on back to the office, take the time to consider another type of return — the return to vacation. Make the most of your precious time and come back truly refreshed rather than exhausted differently. Your brain and your team will thank you.