Why does it always seem to be the case that your workload is insane the week before and after any time off from work? I have consistently found myself working late into the night, coming in early, ditching gym sessions and lunch breaks just to try and get on top of things.
This time round I decided enough was enough, and came up with some techniques to avoid the seemingly inevitable spike in effort in the run up to, and immediately after, a holiday.
Before you Go
Get on the defensive
Think ahead. At least two weeks before your holiday, start blocking out chunks of your calendar. In my case I blocked out the whole of my two last days in the office. This won’t give you two completely free days, because urgent meetings always find their way into your calendar, but my meeting schedule was about half its usual density as a result of doing this.
When you’re done, block out your first day back too. You’re going to be next to useless at a 9am meeting on your first day back, so why bother?
You have to get your head straight in your final week and get into the habit of saying “does this need doing and do I have to be the one to do it?
Start declining meeting requests and delegating any work that is not critical. Aim not to take on any new projects/tasks, and – similar to the diary technique – you’ll find that your inbox reduces drastically (but you probably won’t be able to avoid 100% of new tasks)
Set your Out of Office early
I turned on my out of office message the morning of my last day. This meant that the majority of messages I received that day could be ignored. The few messages I did respond to were greeted with pleasant surprise (I thought you were off?) – the rest found alternative ways to get their particular issues resolved, and were no worse off as a result.
Double up and delegate
You must delegate tasks/projects/meetings to other people wherever possible in the run up to your last day. If this can’t be done, ensure you double up with a team member on all your key meetings/emails etc. This reduces the size of the 11th-hour handover and means that any actions that need to be taken can be delegated to the other person.
Take a day off
This sounds weird, but this time round I took a day off before my holiday. By bringing my deadline forward a day I was able to focus on getting a full productive last day, rather than worrying about all the stuff I had to do when I got home. It also gave me a little leeway to pick up any last things that dropped off a cliff in the closing hours of the previous day.
I ended up spending 30 minutes on my ‘extra day off’ clearing the last emails out of my inbox and I made 1 phone call to delegate a task to someone who hadn’t been in the office the previous day. I was ‘logged off’ from work mode by 9am and free to get sorted for my holiday.
Give a trusted person access to your email
For the last 3 holidays I have entrusted my calendar and mailbox to a member of my team. I’m not important enough to have a secretary/PA (hopefully this will come in time!) but for a few weeks a year this person is happy to do basic maintenance for me, which involves:
- Deleting all the crap (automated notifications, cake sales etc)
- Following up on urgent requests to ensure they are fulfilled (what I call “Out of Office +”)
- Forwarding on relevant emails to other team members to action
- Filing the most important stuff that I’ll need to get to when I get back
These basic activities make sure that my inbox doesn’t explode, important stuff is not missed and I’m able to get to the important stuff first when I return.
When you get back
Get a summary on a page
Nominate one person in your team to provide you with a one-page summary of what’s happened while you were away. This means that if, like me, you’re an early starter, you can get your head around any important events without needing to have three or four 30-minute catch-ups with key individuals.
There’s nothing more distracting than a whole load of “how was your holiday?” “What was the weather like” conversations, and unless you’re a complete robot you’ll find it difficult to resist those niceties on your first day.
Getting in before everyone else and blasting a few key actions is a great way to get up and running without needing to blow off those well-meaning enquiries.
Hopefully you’re already a follower of the “Do, Defer, Delegate, Delete” technique. When you’re doing this on a daily basis, the 2-minute rule is a great tool to get things done effectively.
On your first day back, I say forget Do.
Your first challenge is to process your inbox, which will likely be bulging with all sorts of horrible crap. My recommendation is to go from top to bottom and Defer, Delegate or Delete. Trying to action all your 2-minute items could burn several hours and you’ll miss the urgent item from your boss two-thirds of the way down the list.
Once you’ve processed all your emails, review your urgent items. Start to work the stuff that is Urgent and Important, then move on to Urgent.
It’s your first day; chances are you’re still jet-lagged, or hung over, or just on a huge come-down to be back in a corporate enviroment after your little vacation. Whatever the situation, it’s useful to remember that the job will still be there tomorrow – go home to your partner/family/dog and try and eke out a little more of that holiday feeling whilst it’s still lingering.
A good night’s sleep will make you all the more productive for Day 2.