Just the idea of planning a holiday can be stressful. Aside from booking travel, all the preparations you need to make in order to leave work behind can feel overwhelming. But if you simply think strategically about what you need to do, you can forgo the stress and finally catch a break from work.
This post originally appeared on the Harvard Business Review.
Holidays are the things that dreams and cruise commercials are made of. Ideally, you come back refreshed, recharged and ready to go. But sometimes, the exact opposite is true. Who among us hasn't said at some point, usually the day before we leave, "Trying to take this holiday is so stressful, it would have been better not to go at all!" Sometimes, holiday stress is unavoidable, but most times it's manageable if we're simply more strategic. As the owner of a time coaching and training company, many of my clients tell me that after using the strategies below, they were able to take their first really refreshing holiday in years.
Schedule in Advance and Set it in Stone
One of the most important elements of reducing stress around your holiday is to decide well in advance when you'll take time off. This gives you the opportunity to protect the time before and after your holiday from too many commitments. It also gives you the ability to make thoughtful choices as you pull the details of your trip together. Having lead time reduces stress to such a degree that one of my time coaching clients who does high-end travel planning requires at least three months of advance notice.
Once you know that you want to take a holiday, immediately block out those dates on your calendar as "out of the office." It's best to not make plans for any scheduled items like conference calls while you're travelling. This way, the only work activities that you might end up doing during your holiday are the truly unexpected and urgent ones. Sure, you may have to check in on one or two things while you're away -- life happens -- but you should avoid having to do your regular work during your time out of the office.
Although it's tempting to pack in as many meetings as you can before and after a trip, you'll end up with better results by creating a buffer around your holiday. Set aside a few days before you leave to wrap up projects, take care of important emails, and attend any truly urgent meetings that pop up. Reserve at least the first day that you're back in the office to get your head back into work and clear out your inboxes. It's the office equivalent of getting your suitcases unpacked and your home back in order promptly instead of staying half unpacked for days or weeks on end.
Don't Over-Structure Your Trip
How you structure your trip also has a significant impact on how refreshed you'll feel when you get back. I recommend taking at least a half a day off of work before you leave to give yourself some margin for any final packing details or errands. When you originally purchase your flights, it's worth spending the extra money to travel at reasonable times. Having to get up at 3 a.m. to catch a flight will not put you in a good state for your travels, and being sleep deprived makes it more likely that you'll get sick. And since you planned well in advance, you'll be able to find more affordable flights.
As you plan activities, don't just think about what you want to see or do, but also think about the sort of experience you want to have. Just because you're in Paris for the first time doesn't mean that you need to go to every museum on the map. You may find you feel much happier -- and more refreshed -- by spending time at a few important spots and then giving yourself the luxury of sitting at a café for a few hours or taking a leisurely stroll.
If you're travelling with children, focus on simplicity. Especially at younger ages, they're quite content with a pool to play in, and with being unrushed. Plan for everything to take longer than you'd expect, and relax into the fact that you're on holiday, so that's just fine.
Start Preparations Early and Don't Rush
If you plan on taking a substantial holiday, start packing -- or at least running errands -- early. I find that blocking out time the weekend before the final week of work dramatically decreases the amount of last-minute trips to the pharmacy or the dry cleaner's. Also, coordinate with your colleagues so that everyone has clear expectations on what you will and won't be doing while you're out of the office. That could mean giving others the authority to make decisions on certain projects, or letting them know that in specific situations they should contact you.
Use your "Out of Office" message on your email and phone wisely. I like to state that I'm out of the office until X date and that I will return messages as promptly as possible after that time. That sets the expectation that I won't reply while on holiday and also that it may take a few days after I return to the office to reply. Additionally, if you start your out-of-office auto-response a day before you actually leave, it will be easier to extract yourself from the office on time, as you'll be able to focus on what's most essential during your last day in the office.
Have a Plan for Re-Entry
To maximise the relaxing benefits of your holiday, have a good re-entry plan. This can include arriving home a day early -- or at least earlier in the day -- so that you have some time to unpack, do laundry, and get a good night's sleep. This also gives you time to make a plan for the coming day, so that you have a clear sense of how to approach your first day back in the office. Finally, instead of focusing on the fact that you're no longer on holiday, think about how grateful you are for the time you had away. Gratitude creates joy that can carry you through the initial shock of going back to "real life".
As you're planning your next getaway, these strategies can help make it truly refreshing.
Going on Vacation Doesn't Have to Stress You Out at Work [Harvard Business Review]
Elizabeth Grace Saunders is author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015), a time coach, and the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training. Find out more at RealLifeE.com.
Picture: ratch (Shutterstock)