Do any of these sound like you?
- “I’m too busy to focus on the longer term.”
- “I feel like I can’t take time off the day to day activities to plan for strategic long-term goals.”
- “It’s tough to put in the time to think about my career strategy instead of focusing on the now.”
- “I struggle with making my development a priority. It’s a challenge just to schedule time for it, and even when I do, I end up finding something else to fill the time that seems more important.”
When you put off thinking about your career and life, you encourage anxiety to build up. The issues are still lurking in the background, making it hard to truly relax. And that defeats the whole point of vacations!
Vacation is a great time to switch off from the day-to-day pressures of work, endless list of tasks, and the constant bombardment of calls, emails and social media notifications.
It’s also a great time to switch on to thinking about what you really want in your career and life. Like getting your next promotion or figuring out what the best next step might be on your career journey.
That’s because unlike the daily grind of your job, which you may well want to take a break from, your career is a strategic and future oriented topic that has a huge impact on the life you and your family lead. So, it’s worth some quality time when you have time to think about it.
This summer vacation, do it the smart way. Here are five steps for using your vacation time wisely.
5 Simple Steps to Advance Your Career When on Vacation
1. Set aside time to reflect and think
Being away from the hustle and bustle of daily life is an ideal time to think bigger, more expansive thoughts. You have the luxury of allowing your mind to escape from the tyranny of your “to do’s” and tap into the strategic thinking part of your brain.
Think about what matters most to you in your career long term, what you envision for your future and what needs to be true in order for you to get it.
Think about what you want to set in motion when you return to work and identify what help you need and who you could get it from.
Being away from it all allows you the time and space to be more creative in your thinking. And if you get called away by family duties, roll with the flow – you’ll have primed your brain to do more thinking and reflecting while you’re playing with the kids or having dinner with your partner.
If you’re an early bird and do your best thinking alone in calm environments, then you might like to get up an extra hour early to dedicate time for your thinking.
Or you can combine it with an outdoor activity or with some exercise. Being out in nature or doing something repetitive on autopilot (like swimming laps or jogging) are ideal for freeing your brain to do bigger aspirational thinking and reflecting.
You could even incorporate your loved ones or friends into your thinking time. Sometimes, it helps to bounce your ideas around with people who know and love you, and it can also bring you closer to each other by sharing in the creation of your future.
Teaming up with someone can also keep you from ignoring the time you set aside for thinking and ensure you actually follow through!
2. Think on paper
Even if you’re the most pro-technology person or trying to go “paperless” like I am, it can be valuable to write by hand.
Different parts of your brain get involved when you write instead of type. And this more holistic engagement brings greater rewards such as creativity and innovative thinking.
The other great thing about thinking on paper is that goals you put in writing will tend to stay in your mind and cause your brain to work toward that goal even when you’re not consciously thinking about it. Your brain keeps working behind the scenes on the goals you commit to paper, which makes it more likely you’ll achieve them.
You don’t have to come to a concrete set of answers right away – this isn’t a math problem with a single correct answer.
Thinking on paper is about letting your mind wander wherever it wants to take you. Point it in the direction of possibilities and options, not solutions or decisions. Which brings us to the next point.
3. Open your mind to your aspirations
Aspirations are your picture of success. How you envision the future for your career and life.
Aspiring and envisioning help you think about the kinds of skills and accomplishments you’ll need to succeed at the next level. They also help you get in touch with the “why” behind your career goals and aspirations so you’re not just defaulting to the next logical step on the escalator.
What would your 90-year-old self be proud to say about your life and career? What do you value? What would need to be true for you to be happy with the way you live your life?
If being at work and doing your job is like driving through crowded intersections and merging onto highways, then taking time to think and strategize on vacation is like getting up in a helicopter and seeing the overall landscape, recognizing where you want to go and identifying the best way to get there.
But while giving yourself the breathing room to look at where you really want to head, avoid the temptation to come to conclusions just yet. When it comes to future goals and aspirations, it often helps to live with them for a bit and let them sink in.
4. Home in on your next 2-3 actions
Once you’ve had some time to think, reflect and get inspired about your future aspirations, it’s time to identify the next practical steps to achieve them.
One of my mentors told me that to achieve your goals, “You just need to know your big goal and the very next steps. You don’t need to map out the entire plan.”
I loved that. It was freeing for me because it took all the pressure off of having a perfect plan to execute. These days, the world changes so quickly that if you laid out all the steps of a 5-year plan, it would soon become outdated and useless.
Going back to the driving analogy, all you need is the destination (that is, your promotion or other aspirations) and the next few turns. You can always rely on your internal GPS to make those inevitable mid-course corrections.
What are the next few steps that will most move the needle when it comes to setting yourself up for your next career steps?
5. Set up an easy win for your return
When you step back into the office, your day-to-day work is going to take over once again. So you need to be prepared if you want to use the valuable insights you gained from thinking strategically about your longer-term career.
Take a moment to put those key actions into your calendar. Embed them into your processes at work so they’ll definitely happen.
Maybe it’s sending an email to your assistant to set up a meeting with your boss to have that important conversation you’ve been avoiding. Or reaching out to a former mentor who you’ve been meaning to get in touch with. Or booking that course or signing up to get that additional credential to set yourself up for the next level.
Then, you can enjoy the rest of your vacation knowing you’ve already set yourself up for a win when you return.
Use Your Vacation Wisely
Resist the urge to turn off your brain entirely while you’re on vacation. Speaking from experience, that’s a major cause for re-entry trauma.
Instead, put the email away for a day and trust that this thinking time and strategic planning will pay off if you do it now. This is your opportunity away from the day-to-day hustle and bustle of work to create and set in motion the next exciting phase of your career and life.
Keep feeding your brain with thoughts that nurture your future and honor what matters most in your life, including your relationships and your work mission.
Your vacation is a golden time. Use it wisely to get clear on your career aspirations and plans and how to set things up so you can start the ball rolling when you get back to work.