I took a staycation last week. All week. I read a couple of books. I watched a lot of Netflix. I crocheted. I played boardgames with my kids. I cooked and ate and cooked and ate.

But you know what I didn’t do? Check email, work in any other way, or worry about the mountain of work I’d be returning to.

Why? Because I’d planned in advance.

Right now, it can feel like a particularly hard time to take time off. But I also bet you need the time more than you ever have.

Even during normal times, you’re excited to take your vacation, but it’s also a little bit stressful.  You’re worried about getting everything done before you leave, and you’re worried about the backlog when you return.  With a little extra prep, and by fostering a little goodwill and setting the right expectations, you can plan to have a stress free vacation where you can truly disconnect.

Now, you might be saying, “sure, you work for yourself so you can control your schedule and your workload.” And that’s true.

But I’ll tell you something else, for the first 15 years of my career, I was an employee and I had much less control over schedule and workload than I do now.

And I still never checked email on a vacation and was still able to feel back in control from day one, instead of digging myself out over several weeks.

How? Here’s how.

These are the exact steps you can follow (and templates you can swipe) when you want (er…need) to take some time off:

A Couple of Weeks Before Your Time Off

  • Block off the last day (or afternoon) before your vacation on your work calendar as a prep day so that no one can schedule a meeting.   You’ll use this time to:
    • Wrap up all loose ends.  
    • Provide updates to your team: document where all your current projects are and share that info with your manager and relevant coworkers.  
    • Make sure that your colleagues have all the info they need so that they won’t feel compelled to reach out to you on vacation.
    • Engage in “end of day” planning to plan the day you’ll return (and take it a step further to make a rough plan for your whole first week back).
  • Block off the first day you’ll be back on your calendar so that no one can schedule meetings.  
    • You’ll use this day to play catch up on emails, messages and voicemails, and to get status updates from your team.
  • Find a coworker who will handle emergency issues for you while you’re out.  Promise to return the favor.
  • Block out your vacation on your calendar so people know you’ll be gone.

The Day Before Your Vacation

  • Send out an email to your manager and relevant colleagues documenting the status of all projects (as described above).  
    • Thank them in advance for handling anything urgent while you’re away and let them know to ask you any questions they have before the end of the day.
  • Set Up Your Out-of-Office Voicemail.  
    • Here’s a template:

“You’ve reached [FirstName LastName] at [Company].  I’m currently out of the office without access to email or voicemail and will be returning the week of [Month, Day].  If your concern is urgent, please reach out to my colleague [Name] at [email or phone number].  Otherwise, please leave me a message with your name, number and the reason for your call and I will get back to you when I return.”

  • Set up Your Out-of-Office email response.  
    • Here’s a template:

Subject: OoO – Will Respond the Week of [Month, Day]

Body: Thanks for your email.   I’m currently out of the office without access to email or voicemail.  If your concern is urgent, please reach out to my colleague [Name] at [email or phone number].  Otherwise, I’ll respond when I return.


[Your Name]

  • Set your “away” message on Slack (or other messaging service):
    • “I’m on vacation and will be returning the Week of [Month, Day].  If urgent please reach out to my colleague [Name].  Otherwise, I’ll respond when I return.”
  • NOTE: If you work for yourself and/or don’t have any colleagues to cover for you, then you can consider editing your out-of-office messages to say “If it’s truly an emergency, text me at [your number] and I will do my best to get back to you as soon as I can.”
  • Set yourself a task for when you return to complete the “Return from Vacation” process (see below)

When You Return from Vacation

  • Update your voicemail to your standard message.
  • Turn off your vacation email auto-response.
  • Turn off your messaging “away” message.
  • Listen to all your voicemails and add action items, or calls you need to return, to your tasklist.
  • Process all of your email and Slack messages (you are aiming for inbox 0 by the end of your first day back).  
    • Delete all junk.  
    • Unsubscribe from any mailing lists you don’t want to be on.  
    • Respond as necessary and in full where you can.  
    • Add any action items to your task list.
    • Don’t for get to use the “one touch rule
  • Re-prioritize your task list (incorporating the newly added items) and make sure that you return all the calls, and respond to all the emails/Slack messages as necessary.
  • Have a chat with the colleague who was covering for you to get an update on any developments.
  • Let the team know you are back and thank them for covering for you.

And that’s it!

Instead of returning flustered and overwhelmed, you can use the methodical plan of attack above to truly disconnect on vacation, and be back in action on day one of your return.