4 steps to take time off with less guilt & stress

Taking time off can sometimes feel more stressful than staying in the office and foregoing vacation days. Pre-vacation work stress not only deters employees from taking vacation entirely, but also may lead employees to engage in unhelpful habits, like scrambling to finish work before leaving or working through vacation.

But it doesn't have to be that way. Writing for Harvard Business Review, time management coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders recommends a few strategies that alleviate the guilt, fear, and stress that come with being away from the office:

1: Start preparing sooner

Rather than rushing to finish your work within the last week before your vacation, Saunders suggests planning even farther ahead. Three or four weeks before your departure date, clearly outline your must-do tasks.

"Scheduling time weeks before your departure allows you to honestly assess your workload while you still have time to do something about it," writes Saunders.

Then, aim to have these must-do items completed a week before your vacation. Planning to finish your must-do work early gives you time to tackle any unforeseen tasks that will inevitably pop up, Saunders explains.

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2: Make a don't-do list

When you're thinking about what needs to get done before you leave, you should also identify which tasks you'll wait to complete until after your vacation. A few days before leaving, you should have a good idea of what won't get done until you return. Put a pause on these projects and relay their status to your manager and colleagues.

"It can be uncomfortable to have these conversations, but it’s almost always best to be up front about what to expect instead of leaving people hanging who are expecting something from you, and then having to deal with a mid-vacation crisis caused by lack of communication," explains Saunders.

3: Delegate as much as possible

Many employees think they're the only one who can do their jobs. But it's important to realize that "the world can and will keep turning without you," Saunders writes.

She recommends reaching out to colleagues about a week before you leave for vacation to make them aware of projects or tasks that might need their attention while you're away. That way, you won't need to be bothered if something urgent comes up.

4: Unplug completely

While you may need to check in on some projects while you're away, don't spend your whole vacation working, Saunders warns. If there is urgent correspondence or a task that demands your attention, set limits.

Otherwise, sign off. Completely unplugging from work allows you to reap the health benefits associated with vacations, including lowered stress; improved sleep, creativity, and concentration; and enhanced connections with others.

"I personally believe that completely stepping away from work for a time gives us the gift of perspective," Saunders writes. "It helps us remember that our jobs really can go on without us—at least for a while. And it reminds us of the importance of life outside our work" (Saunders, Harvard Business Review, 8/31).

Related: The wrong way to weekend (and 4 smarter ways to recharge)


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