It’s almost here. The birds are chirping, the kids are counting down to the end of school and you and your staff are counting down to fun summer vacations. Vacations are awesome and everyone should take as many as possible. But how do you get ready for your time off without feeling like you have to work all the extra hours you will soon be taking off?

How can you take a relaxing vacation without stressing out to the max getting ready? The key is to start preparing now so it’ll be smooth sailing when you saunter out the door.

Even if your trip is planned for late August, start preparing now. Follow these steps.

  1. Make a list of everything that will need to be done before you go. Make it realistic, don’t put your entire year’s deliverables onto your plate.
  2. Break it down into weekly increments depending on how long before you go. This way you can do a couple extra items each week, without having an avalanche to do in the few days before you leave.
  3. Be sure to check in with your co-workers and  other critical participants in your projects for when they will be out of the office. Plan around those schedules.
  4. Recruit other team members to pick up a couple of the extra items that might push you into working too much right before you go. Your co-workers want you to have a great vacation and be prepared for your time off as well, so you’ll be surprised at what others will help you with if you just ask.
  5. The week before your vacation (or longer if you’ll be gone for an extended period), start notifying everyone that you will be out. Ask them if there is anything that is critical for them before you leave.
  6. Ask a reliable person to be on your email out-of-office auto responder, give that person a thorough update of any communications that would be vital while you’re out and what to do with them. It’s great peace of mind if you know there is a capable person to respond to things in your absence.
  7. Plan to leave early on your last day in the office. This is a mental trick. I’ve spend many late nights at the office trying to finish everything before I go. By planning to leave early that day, you’re more likely to actually leave at the normal end of day, when you remember the ten last-minute items that must be completed. And if not? Then you’ll start your vacation a couple hours early. Win win.

What you don’t want is to get to the first day of your vacation and think, well, I’ll just take my laptop with me so I can check in on that project. Don’t do it. Your vacation is the only time you have to completely turn off work, don’t sully it with “occasional” checkins. They might not take much time, but then you’ll be thinking about work when you should be thinking about sunscreen, surfing and sightseeing. Just don’t. The world won’t end.

Some other tips for a stress-less vaca:

  • Disconnect your work email from your phone
  • Tell everyone you are completely unplugging (a nice way of saying, don’t call me)
  • Leave your laptop at your desk at work, that way you won’t be tempted to throw it in your bag last minute

Not taking a vacation soon? Shame on you. Even if you can’t afford a big trip somewhere, taking time off from work and completely unplugging is the best thing you can do for your career. Your boss and co-workers do not want to work with a burn-out. Take care of yourself. Devon Merling says:

“One of the most comprehensive studies on vacation time and health was the Framingham Heart Study, a cardiovascular study that began in 1948 to follow people who were at risk of heart disease. The researchers found that the women in the study who took at least two vacations a year were almost eight times less likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack than women who only vacationed every six years or less. Similarly for men, a 2000 SUNY-Oswego study that followed 12,000 middle-age men over nine years found that taking a yearly vacation decreases the risk of a fatal heart attack by 32 percent.

So basically, you’re avoiding a heart attack by taking a vacation. Just go!

About Monday Matters: Monday morning is a great time to think about some big picture strategy. You’re hopefully rested from the weekend and ready to come out swinging. Don’t waste this glorious freshness on your in-box. Before you get into your tactical to-do list for the week, take this moment to pause and think about strategy.

Photo by Kim Seng, via Flickr Commons