I’m not proud to admit I get anxiety before I take time off from work. It feels like a sign of weakness. It’s definitely a sign I have not yet reached work life harmony. For me, the anxiety manifests mostly as a fear of missing important things. Big decisions, private conversations, strategy shaping moments. Also, a fear of forgetting to take care of something and having it explode when I’m not there to help. And if I’m brutally honest, a fear of being forgotten. There’s no sense in pretending the anxiety isn’t there, as silly as it may sound. It is there. The question is, how to manage it.
Here are three tips I’ve used over the years to control my pre-vacation anxiety. They help me de-stress before I leave and reduce the worry I often feel when I get back to work.
1. Prepare a pre-vacation briefing package
Many managers do not do this effectively. In fact, most managers don’t do it at all. Before you leave for vacation, you should prepare a briefing package for your manager and for key leaders on your team. If you’re just bailing with little or no preparation, and hoping things don’t die while you’re sunning yourself at the beach, you’re not being a responsible manager.
Before I leave for vacation, I take a couple of hours and prepare a briefing document for my manager that outlines all the major issues I have ongoing, as well as a list of specific actions I need her to take on my behalf when I’m out of office. I try to be as detailed as I can since I really don’t want things to pop up and surprise her when I’m away. I also don’t want it to appear like I don’t have a handle on my business when something I didn’t prep her for becomes a problem while I’m sipping margaritas.
I also create shorter packages for the key leaders on my team. Priority items for them to focus on, clear expectations for progress that needs to be made while I’m away. By doing this, we can all be on the same page with what the objectives are for the period and how they will be able to make decisions in when I’m not present to weigh in. The last thing you want is for momentum to stall out because you’re on holiday. You goal, in preparing for your vacation, is to arm your team with enough direction and authority so they can push forward confidently without you.
My advice to managers is to spend a little more time preparing pre-vacation briefing packages for your boss and team members. It will ensure progress is made when you’re away and it will set your mind at ease so you can relax and enjoy your well-deserved holiday.
2. Check in with your key stakeholders and influencers
Before I take off, I try to connect with the most important stakeholders and influencers in my work life. I’m talking about key people in the organization, peers, people you’d normally be meeting with but won’t be. I don’t think it’s enough to just switch on your out of office reply and hope for the best. I like to have a quick friendly conversation to let them know I’m taking off for a while. I have found these quick pre-vacation check-ins make things go a lot smoother when I’m out. Nobody panics when they have an issue and realize I’m not around to help. And we can get alignment on key issues that might occur during my time off. It helps.
My advice to managers is to make a quick list of the most important people in your work life, and give them a call before you take off on vacation. There is no downside to doing this and it can help maintain momentum and alignment on key issues while you’re away.
3. Take some perspective
This one probably should have come first. Clearly, I need this perspective as much as any of us by virtue of the fact I felt compelled to write this blog in the first place. I try to remind myself that the world doesn’t revolve around me. That, my career will be played out over many years and decades, and that a couple weeks off is a mere blip on that timeline. In the grand scheme, this vacation will have zero impact on my reputation or career trajectory. Its pure hubris to think that somehow me being away will send the department or company into a tail spin. I get quite embarrassed whenever I catch myself in this mode of thinking.
My advice to managers is to take some healthy perspective the next time you feel anxiety about taking vacation. Remind yourself that you are just not THAT important. The world, the company, your team will go on without you. At the scale of your career, this two-week period – any two-week period - is nothing. The energy you will take from unwinding will greatly outweigh any drawdown in productivity that could occur in your absence. Take your vacation, enjoy your time off, come back and start doing your best at work again.
Some of you, I suspect, will be able to relate very personally to the issues I’ve raised in this blog. Some of you may not. It’s certainly not something we should simply accept as a normal way of being. My hope is that by sharing some of my own anxieties and tips for managing them, you’ll be able to face your own pre-vacation angst. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section – if for nothing more than to let me know I’m not alone 😊