vacation planningWe’re all about productivity in this corner of the internet, and it’s well established that seeking a work-life balance or blend, or just taking sustained breaks, help.

But working in the new economy often means changing jobs, doing work for two, or hanging out a shingle. This results in reduced vacation days and fewer opportunities to take them. So we end up taking a day here, or if particularly adventurous, bookending weekends for a 3 or 4 days-off stint. opening ourselves to reduced productivity and burnout.

Then, a glorious opportunity arises to take a full week to 10 days off – a real, get-away, restful, rejuvenating, kind of vacation. After the initial euphoria, worry sets in as you try to figure out what the heck to do with the unprecedented free time. I was faced with this situation recently and here are some lessons I learned.

Get away right away

Not only are you used to being around and not going away for long stretches, your friends and family are used to you being around, too. If you dilly-dally, you’ll end up dog-sitting while they go away on a two-day excursion to The Hamptons. Or, you’ll end up using the free time to check work email or run less than urgent errands. So, rule #1: plan a get-away and leave the day your vacation starts. The getaway doesn’t have to be to exotic locales, like the hidden beaches of Croatia (though that’s nice if you can swing it), it can be to a neighboring state with a nice boardwalk, or a few, quaint, towns over. Just leave.

Leave work behind

This is important and you need to plan for it so that your clients and responsibilities are taken care of. For me, it meant spending some time training a colleague and clearing my calendar by taking care of critical items before I left. To avoid checking work email – a big no-no – let your colleagues know that if there’s an emergency, they should contact you by phone, on your personal email, or even via private message on Facebook. Hey, who are we kidding – you’ll be on there anyway.

Don’t over-plan

I had my fun books and “professional” books set aside, days for reflection and planning earmarked, days for catching up, and on it went. I got to almost none of these grand plans and instead, felt burdened by them and almost guilty for not being productive. Argh! Getting away right away helps. Leave a couple of days at the end when you return to tackle tasks and plans and indulge your rediscovered creativity.

Social media

This is tricky. The conventional wisdom is that you should disconnect completely. But, why? What if your use of social media is not intrusive and actually adds to your everyday life? Why take that away just because you’re on vacation? My advice is to continue to engage, but do so sparingly. Don’t be one of those vacationers who check-in to every nook and cranny on Facebook and spend their evenings downloading 147 pictures from earlier in the day. It feels great to share in the joy, but even better to be present and experience it. Remember those glorious days? So, go ahead and share and engage; just don’t make that activity the focus of your time away.

Finally, the best way to get back into the swing of things and feel good about going back to work is to start planning your next vacation as soon as you get back from your current one. Just don’t over-plan it.

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