Old habits die hard, which is why I'm one of those people who checks work email every morning after I stop snoozing my alarm. Worse still is when I feel tempted to check in when I'm supposed to be on vacation, especially given just one hour of work-related activity can decrease the memorability of a trip by 43%.
To help you (and me) finally unplug and, you know, actually enjoy vacation without work interference, I asked productivity experts to provide this five-step guide to a guilt-free getaway.
1. Prepare an out-of-office plan a week ahead.
We'll bet you'd rather be daydreaming about your future cabana time, but before you get there, square away your work to-dos first.
Susan Sly, an expert on work-life balance, suggests setting aside 30 minutes to visualize everything you do in a given week, as well as any special projects in need of attention when you're gone.
"After this, decide who you can delegate to, have conversations with, or what can be automated while you are away," she says. "This will allow you to have a significant number of tasks handled while you are blissfully unplugged."
Likewise, ask your colleagues what they need from you before you leave, says work-life balance expert Mary LoVerde. Timing is key: If you get their requests a week in advance, you have several days to tackle both their needs and yours.
2. Make a to-do list for when you're back.
While you're drafting your pre-vacation tasks, you'll likely run into a few that can wait until you return. Clear your mind and your schedule by moving them to a "when I get back" list.
If anything involves following up with a colleague, set up a meeting now to check in after you return.
"This keeps their anxiety down, and they can wait more easily knowing they are in the queue to get their needs met when you get home," LoVerde says. You'll show colleagues you care about the work they do, and won't leave them hanging while you're sipping Mai Tais by the pool.
That said, don't set any meetings for 9 a.m. your first Monday back. Instead, "Schedule a catch-up meeting or block off time when you return to go over all the emails you missed," LoVerde says. "If it decreases your anxiety, plan your return timing to allow you to do this before you get back to the office so you're in the know." This might mean booking your return flight for a Saturday so you can leave Sunday for re-entry prep.
3. Delegate, delegate, delegate.
If you think being away from the office will leave your colleagues in a lurch, reframe it this way: Delegating work to your teammates can be a sign you recognize and trust their abilities.
"You have an opportunity to say really good things to people that they wouldn’t have heard otherwise, like letting them know you trust them to handle the workload," LoVerde says. "Instead of thinking all these things are going to go wrong, ask what the advantages are to you leaving for a vacation."
4. Set your boundaries, and make them known.
If constantly answering texts, returning emails and taking calls means returning from vacation more exhausted than when you left, set the boundaries for when — and even if — you'll check into work.
Set rules before you leave based on what you've done so far and what you might need to keep track of while out. Then, shout it from the rooftops.
OK, not literally, but definitely communicate your expectations and availabilities to coworkers in advance. Peer pressure here can work in your favor, LoVerde says.
Think about it: Have you ever gotten an email from a colleague while they were out of office, and then chided them for being online? If your coworkers see you breaking your own communication rules, they may be the reinforcement you need to step away from the keyboard. Additionally, "Research shows that when you announce your intentions out loud, you have a greater chance of keeping them," LoVerde says.
If you do plan to work, Sly suggests doing so in the morning. You can address any lingering issues from the day before, you can set your colleagues up for success, you can go about the rest of your own day worry-free, and it will likely be quieter where you are to be super-productive and focused.
5. Forgive yourself for wanting to check in.
Here's a fun fact for those of us (and by that I mean me) who just can't help but check when a work notification rolls in: "When we hear that little ding or want to check an email, we get a release of dopamine in our brain," LoVerde says.
Given the addictive quality of constant connection, recognize that your reaction to this stimulant is totally natural, and stop feeling guilty.
If setting a mental barrier to work isn't helpful, try a physical one: Delete work email off your phone, power it down when you're in the middle of a fun activity, or leave it behind altogether. In all likelihood, the rush you'd feel dealing with a work situation will pale in comparison to the fun waiting for you beyond the screen.