5 tips for fully unplugging on your vacation
Published Sunday, July 10, 2011 7:14AM EDT
Ever taken a summer break in which you complained you needed "a vacation from your vacation"?
You know, the vacation that left you feeling exhausted from trying to pack in too much in too short a time? Or the one where your phone never stopped beeping the whole time with messages from work? Or the one where you came back to so much more work than you left that you vowed to never leave the office again?
Well, here's a tip: you're doing it wrong.
If your summer vacation leaves you feeling anything but revitalized, chances are good you made a few classic vacation-planning mistakes. So here's our guide for getting the most out of your summer break.
1) Pick the right vacation
Beverly Beuermann-King, a stress and wellness speaker who runs Worksmart Livesmart says one of the key mistakes people make when planning a summer vacation is not choosing the right one for their needs.
Someone who had a lot of pressure and stress at work, for example, would probably do best to choose a relaxing, pampering vacation, where all the decisions are left to others. Others with more low-key lives might find such a trip boring, and would prefer to bring home a great collection of adventure photos and stories.
The key is to pick the trip that will leave you feeling most satisfied at the end of it.
"I think planning the right vacation is really important," says Beuermann-King. "Look at what your goals are for the vacation."
Of course, this can sometimes get trickier when planning a family vacation in which many different goals need to be met for the trip. But making plans to ensure that everyone gets a little of what they want just means a bit more planning ahead.
"That's where discussion comes in, to make it work for everyone," she says.
2) Make the vacation long enough
Many people make the mistake of thinking that instead of taking a full vacation, they'll just take a few long weekends, assuming it will save them some hassles. The problem is that such breaks are often not long enough to fully decompress and "get away from it all," says Beuermann-King.
"It usually takes three to four days to get back into a regular sleep pattern," she points out. "So while long weekends are great, for most people, it takes even longer to come down into a normal pattern of sleeping."
She says research suggests that vacations of 7 to 10 days are the ideal length. That's enough time to fully relax and step out of "work mode," but not so long that it's too much of a culture shock to return to work.
"So we need to give ourselves enough time," she says. "It's best to take a least one big chunk of time off, maybe, in the summer and then supplement it with long weekends and other smaller breaks."
You'll know you've chosen the right vacation length when you come back feeling refreshed -- and maybe even a bit excited to get back to work.
3) Plan your work handover thoroughly
Nothing can ruin a vacation quicker than a never-ending stream of emails and phone calls from work. So don't think you can just let HR know you're taking a vacation, turn on your "out of office" manager and head out.
Beuermann-King says it's important to plan how you're going to hand over duties to others so that you don't come back to a mountain of tasks that didn't get done while you were away.
Talk to your boss and your colleagues about their expectations about what will happen when you're away. Who will be doing your duties? When should they call you for a decision? How open are you to being called or emailed at home?
"Having those conversations helps the supervisor be confident that things can get done," says Beuermann-King.
It also ensures that duties are delegated fairly to others so that it's not just one person stuck with all your work.
4) Decide how connected you want to stay with work
Many complain that modern communication devices have ruined vacations. And yes, it's likely that many a child has gazed resentfully at a parent texting away on their phone while they're supposed to be paddling the canoe.
But the reality of the modern economy is that many workplaces expect workers to still remain at least somewhat connected, even while on vacation. And for the truly dedicated who love what they do, the idea of totally disconnecting fills them with panic. So devices that keep them in the loop even while they're away can actually be a godsend, not a curse.
Beuermann-King suggests setting some ground rules before you leave -- both with yourself and your colleagues -- about how often you'll be checking in while you're away.
"So if you have to check messages, set a designated time to check them and then do it just once a day," she suggests. Calling and writing emails all day long is not fair to the people you're vacationing with.
And don't feel you have to stay connected to work, if you don't really want to. Trying to impress others with your seemingly indefatigable work dedication is usually exhausting and will likely just leave you feeling resentful and irritated.
"So that's the wrong reason to check messages," says Beuermann-King.
5) Take the vacation
Surveys consistently show that many Canadians don't take advantage of all their vacation days. Most of us are entitled to two to three weeks off a year, along with another nine statutory holidays, for a total of 19 to 24 free weekdays. And yet surveys show, we often let our vacation days expire, or we cancel trips at the last moment when "something comes up" at work.
Many of us worry we'll miss something important at work while we're away. Or we worry of seeming less dedicated than someone else, especially if we're looking for a promotion.
But Beuermann-King says research shows that vacations offers enormous health benefits. And those who don't take time off tend to burn out, creating tensions in their career and with relationships at home.
"I use the analogy of a car engine: You can't continue to rev it and rev it and not put some maintenance into it. And it's the same with our bodies and minds. We need down time to feel rejuvenated and to feel creative," she says.
She points out too that it's not just the vacation that can be revitalizing; it's the looking forward to one, too.
"The anticipation, the 'planning of' seems to rejuvenate as well," she says.
That's why she advises mapping out vacations as early as January, taking a look at the year ahead to figure out when it would be best to take some time off. That way, when you hit a low point in late winter, you can remind yourself of that European excursion you have planned for June.
"It gives you something to look forward to," she says.