Summertime is vacation season. It’s that time of year when your productivity dips as the temperature rises. The office empties out in bursts as co-workers pick different weeks to take their paid time off. Things seem to slow to a crawl as projects stagnate and people just aren’t motivated to do their work. It’s the perfect time to get away from the office for a while.

But vacations also come with hazards of their own. It’s difficult to turn off from work mode, no matter how slow the workplace becomes during the summer. Whether you take a week or two to soak in the sun at the beach or relax at home with your family, make sure you avoid these vacation mistakes.

Not taking it

41% of Americans don’t take their vacation days. It’s a huge mistake, and it’s part of a working culture that seems to shame people for taking the vacation days they have earned and deserve. Many employees fear that if they take vacation, they’ll be replaced. Don’t be one of these employees. Your employer wants or should want you to take your vacation days. 91% of senior business leaders believe that you come back to work after a vacation ready to tackle the challenges of your job with new vigor. If they don’t seem as enthusiastic about that idea, you should still take it -- for you and your own health.

Even more important, getting away from the office for some nice paid time off will let you refresh and recharge your batteries. You’ll come back to work happier, more relaxed, and entirely de-stressed. After all, the pressure of the workplace tends to pile up steadily throughout the year. As it becomes more and more overwhelming, this pressure can cause a drop in your satisfaction with your job, make you lose productivity, and lead to mistakes you don’t normally make.

Avoid this mistake by making a concerted effort to take your vacation days. When you know that your job will be in a lull as you wrap up a project, talk to your boss and tell them you intend to take a week or two off. If you’ve got plenty of time budgeted for a project deadline, take a week off in between so that you can get some rest and push through the rest of the work efficiently when you return to work. Find times when it’s appropriate for you to take a break. Your work will be there waiting for you when you come back.


Not leaving on a good note

Another mistake you should avoid is leaving for vacation without setting up the processes you need to make sure nothing important is missed. If you work regularly with clients or company accounts, email your points of contact to inform them of your temporary departure. Make sure you set up an out of office email to automatically reply to any emails you get.

If you expect to get emails that need a reply, find a co-worker that you can list as an alternate or emergency contact on your out of office email. If you need someone to take over on a project or take care of your workflow for a while, find a kindred soul who can keep the ship afloat while you’re gone and make sure you offer the same in return when they’re taking time off.

A vacation is only effective as a way of resting and relaxing if you can, for the most part, keep your mind off work and do fun activities. This is impossible if you are constantly forced to check your phone, respond to emails, and even work on your projects. By getting all of the above out of the way a day or two before you go on vacation, you can avoid the unnecessary stress and frustration of being forced to reply to work emails on the job.

Sweating the small stuff

Even if you do set up an automatic out of office response, you might find yourself responding to every email you get while on vacation. Stop! That sales email can wait. The project leader can ask someone else on the team about that feature. That cold outreach can take a back seat for a few days. Anyone that wants to reach out to you will see that you’re not available and that you will reach back out later. They might even send you a follow up email when you return to work.

By responding to work emails promptly and regularly while on vacation, you’re not allowing yourself to take full advantage of the opportunity to get out of work mode. You’re also carrying the pressure and frustration of the workplace into an environment that should be relaxing. Even worse, sweating the small stuff creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. You’re developing a habit of being easily accessible even while on vacation, which encourages others to continually contact you during your time off, only forcing you to into further stressing over emails you can take care of later.

There are very few messages you might get while on vacation that require your immediate attention, regardless of the circumstances. Don’t sweat the small stuff when you should be sweating in the sun. Just make sure you actually follow up on anything you missed when you return to work.

Avoiding the big stuff

While most emails can be avoided during vacation, there are some that you should not, under any circumstances, ignore. If there’s a critical issue at work where your contribution is instrumental to putting out a fire, make sure you respond and do your part. If your boss or co-worker has repeatedly left you a voicemail, it’s probably really important.

For the most part, your co-workers don’t want to bother you in inconsiderate ways while on vacation. If something is really important, however, they will go out of their way to reach you, and you should go out of your way to respond. An easy way to ensure that any critical piece of information reaches you while on vacation is to set up a code word for email subject lines. A word like [CRITICAL] in the subject line of an email can give you the call to action you need to pay full attention to the message. This is a great practice to implement for an entire team, allowing you to better communicate when someone is out of office.

Vacation can be a relaxing time, or it can be just as stressful as work. It’s all about how you approach your time off. If you go into it with the attitude that you’re taking the time to recharge so you can be pumped up to return to work, you’ll find yourself enjoying your days off and enthused to be back when vacation’s over.

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