How to Unplug on Vacation

Why is it so incredibly hard to take paid time off (PTO), go on vacation and actually be gone? Way too often, we stay “plugged in.” When my husband and I took a 10-year anniversary cruise to temporarily escape the craziness of life, the first thing we were greeted with on the ship was an offer to purchase Wi-Fi and stay connected at sea. It took everything in us to resist the temptation and stay unplugged. Were we successful? Refreshingly, yes.

So what’s the key to disconnecting on vacation? Give a few of these tips a whirl and then stick with what works best for you.

Plan ahead

Planning ahead means using your blinker to loop in those around you—up, down and around—that you’ll be gone. Make an action plan of “what happens when” for the person(s) filling in for you at work or at home. If you plan ahead correctly, very few will be surprised when they see your out-of-office message indicating that you’re unplugged for the next few days. A little forethought will save you from a majority of interruptions while you’re checked out.

Assign someone to cover you

It’s inevitable—the moment you’re about to take time off, something important turns up. Instead of bracing yourself for the aftermath of the expected unexpected, designate a wingman/woman to be on point in your absence. This person is no ordinary officemate–it’s someone who can handle the pressure and think like you do. Your appointed first responder needs to arrive and handle the situation as you would yourself. It might take a little extra prep getting them up to speed but, once you’ve invested the time, the return is already in motion. And, you can return the favor for them in the future—reciprocal coverage!

Set clear boundaries

I get it—you don’t want to 100% shut off because you feel like you’d pay for it in the form of hundreds of emails stacked high awaiting your return, at which time, every hour digging through is another hour behind. Yet, there’s a balance with premeditated guard rails, for others and for yourself. Set boundaries in advance to protect yourself from complete submersion into work on your precious time off. For me, it’s 30 minutes in the morning or evening each day to quickly scan through emails checking for fires. I’m not responding to the un-urgent but merely spot-checking for the plainly urgent. If nothing jumps to my attention, I move on without another thought. As for my coworkers, I’m explicit in my requests for a text message or call if there’s something dire. That way, their immediate need doesn’t get caught in the net of wild emails. These guard rails, and those of your own, will help ensure your vacation territory is protected.

Enlist accountability

I use this phrase more than most others in my practice of good work etiquette because it works. In order for me to stick to the “work-on-vacay boundaries” I’ve set for myself, my husband is my check. I enlist him to ensure I keep my word. He’ll eagerly jump on any opportunity to remind me that I’m approaching my limit or have gone over my allotted email time. Find someone who’s with you to hold you to your set boundaries and keep your time away sacred.

Block a day to recover

I quickly came to my senses after many vacations without one—I’ll only return with full sanity if I budget a buffer day to recover. This can be another full day of PTO to catch up on email, budget my time allocation for the return week or even unpack and do laundry. If you can’t take a full day, try a half day or even a couple of hours scheduled on your calendar to get yourself organized. It doesn’t mean you won’t still feel like you’re walking into a storm, but a driveway paved when it starts blizzarding is a whole lot better than one packed with an existing two feet of snow!

Published on July 2018