I always feel a tinge of guilt when planning days off. I know that someone else who doesn’t normally do my job will have some of my usual responsibilities unloaded on them. I also feel bad that the people I support will be without my help. However, I am able to ease my guilt by prepping and planning for great coverage and by knowing that I will return to work in a more refreshed state.
“55% of American workers don’t take all their paid vacation” (source: MarketWatch). The sad news about this figure is that about half of us are not reaping the several benefits that time off gives us. Prolonged breaks from work are beneficial for your overall health (source: Wall Street Journal). In addition, 84% of managers agree that employees return to work with improved focus and creativity after taking time off (source: Project: Time Off).
Here are some ways to prepare for your time off so you can fully unplug without feeling guilty:
Get your dates in now
As soon as you have nailed down the timeframe you will be away, let the people you support know. The sooner this is on everyone’s radar, the sooner everyone will be planning that time period knowing that you will be away. Although the world does not stop when you are gone, there might be tasks that can be rearranged or rescheduled so they do not have to be passed onto someone else during that time.
Depending on your situation, it might be wise to be strategic about your dates. For example, it could make the most sense to plan your time off during the same time your principal is on vacation. In addition, there might be an important event or deadline that you should plan around. Another consideration could be aiming for a timeframe when your office is typically less busy, such as avoiding the week of month-end close, for example.
Identify who will cover each task
Make a list of tasks that will need to be carried out during your absence and identify who you recommend to provide coverage for each while you are away. The list should be thought through in detail, though I recommend creating a more high-level version for you to review with your principal. Be sure to think through tasks that you can fully complete in advance or tasks that you can complete a portion of in advance. Once your list is complete, run it by your principal for a final approval.
Notify your back-ups ASAP
It’s important to notify the people who will be providing coverage as soon as possible; you never know if they might have conflicts and you will need to brainstorm Plan B. The sooner they get your dates on their calendars the better.
Also, schedule time with your back-ups well in advance of your time off so they are properly trained on the tasks that will be temporarily handed off to them. Chances are they will have questions and you will want to make sure you have enough time to answer each one before you are off. You also might want to include time for your back-ups to give some or all of the tasks a test drive before you leave.
Think about other people that will be affected by your absence. If it’s a long period of time, there might be some employees who will need advance notice about who to go to for specific items while you are gone.
Make sure your job manual is up to date
Although your job manual should be updated regularly, make sure the sections your back-ups will be referring to are up to date. I recommend giving them both printed and electronic copies. If you do not have a job manual, this article will help you learn how to create and maintain one.
Share all details about each task
If there are tasks that a back-up will need to be in the loop about, create a record of key aspects that will come in handy for that person to reference. Some examples are providing the latest status update, who else is in the loop about the task, etc. Be sure to include information about tasks that have the possibility of coming up as well so your bases are covered.
In addition, make sure you share other pieces of information that those providing coverage will need. For example, there might be logins, alarm codes or phone numbers that you do not keep written down in your job manual. Whatever it is, ensure your principal knows about any confidential information that you need to share in order for a task to be carried out and give that information to the back-up once approved.
Think about all of the items you normally keep in stock and make sure there is plenty of overstock if possible. Not only do you want to ensure those items do not run out while you are away, but it’s helpful to ensure you won’t have to think about doing any reordering immediately upon your return. You could also line up deliveries of fresh items in advance that cannot be ordered in bulk.
Create detailed out of office messages
Be sure to include all details on your away messages, such as who should be contacted in your absence, the date you will return, if you will not be checking emails and any other details that will be helpful to the person on the receiving end. Make sure the information on your automatic replies is consistent across all platforms: on your out of office email, desk phone voicemail, cell phone voicemail, etc.
Make your final checklist
Start creating your final checklist as soon as possible. It’s something that’s helpful to refer to on the days leading up to your departure as well as on the final day. I like to add all items on there, even small obvious items such as “record out of office voicemail on desk phone,” to make sure absolutely nothing is missed. This checklist is also great for easing your mind during the final few minutes on your last day so you can have the comfort of seeing a checkmark the box next to each item before you leave.
Check in with your back-ups and executives upon return
Take the time to meet with your back-ups as well as the people you support once you are back so you can see how everything went during your absence. They might have feedback on what to improve for next time or updates you might need to be in the loop about.
Unexpected time off
Not all time off can be planned in advance- life can be unpredictable at times! I recommend keeping your back-ups current on processes so you are covered in case an emergency happens.