The holiday season can be both thrilling and exciting. When you’re busy at work, one of the challenges can be making time to get away for the holidays. Finding the time is only half of the battle. The other side of this is making sure that once you find the time to get away, you can actually enjoy your time away. This is where the out of office checklist comes in. 

Have you ever spent part of your holiday vacation checking emails? You scroll through, bracing yourself for an urgent situation that needs your attention? Or perhaps you’ve spent some of your holiday on the phone helping your workplace through a problem? 

While some of this is inevitable, there are steps you can take in advance to better plan for your time away to minimize interruptions. Here is an out-of-office checklist you can use to have a great vacation: 

Note: These steps are aimed at individuals who work with a team and generally have flexibility and control over their own schedule. If you work completely independently or you’re not able to set your own schedule, you’ll likely need to adapt these steps to fit your specific situation.

1. Communicate your plans 

You should aim to do this one to two months before you plan to be out. You’ll need to take into account the needs of your company and department. Make sure you’re coordinating your time your colleagues so there is sufficient coverage. The earlier you make your plans, the more likely you will be able to be away on your own terms. It’s important to be a good team member and support your colleagues when they are out as well. If there’s a holiday or season that’s not important to you, that’s a great time for you to be available and provide coverage so you’re able to take off time for yourself when it is most meaningful to you. 

2. Think ahead and plan for your time away 

Time always seems to go faster at the end of the year. About three to four weeks before you’re planning to be out of the office, start to map out your schedule for the next couple of upcoming weeks. Cancel or reschedule meetings for the time that you will be away. Review upcoming deadlines or regular activities that would happen during the time you are gone. Then work backward on a plan to make sure everything is completed before you leave.

Try to be realistic in your planning and take things off your plate whenever possible. Many, many times I’ve essentially tried to make up for the time I’ll be gone by working more hours leading up to my vacation. Often this means staying at the office till 11pm the night before I head off. There are times when this is necessary, but this is a good time to question what is essential and what could be delegated or pushed till later. 

3. Prep for the worst 

Spend some time to think about what the worst possible scenario might be while you’re gone. This might seem like a stressful activity, but by doing this, you can identify any holes that will minimize the likelihood of anything actually occurring. 

Some key areas to think through are: 

  • Who should make decisions in your absence? 
  • What decisions do you absolutely want to be consulted on even if you are on vacation? 
  • Does everyone have access to the important information or is there anything that only lives in your head?
  • What emergency protocols are currently in place? Is there anything that needs some review or updates?

Does everyone have access to the important information or is there anything that only lives in your head?

4. Set out of office communications (email, phone, message on door). 

Most of your key collaborators should already know that you are planning to be away. For everyone else, make sure to clearly communicate your plans with an out of office messages. For email, I like to keep this message very simple, something along the lines of: 

“Thanks for your message. I am currently out of the office and will return on X date. If you need an immediate response, please contact X person. Best, Louisa” For internal stakeholders, I will often leave my cell phone as well. 

For anyone that I think may need to be in touch with me while I am gone, I make sure to communicate that phone is the best way to reach me as I will not be checking email while away. 

By following this out of office checklist, this pre-work should put you in a good position to be able to enjoy your time off. Once you are actually away, there are a few additional steps you can take to really maximize your rest time: 

An out of office checklist for a stress free vacation.

1. Delete the ability to check work email from phone 

If your email is on your phone, you will be tempted to check it. This might seem fine and innocent, but how many times have you accidentally checked your email and seen something frustrating or stressful that you can’t let go of? It’s typically very easy to add and delete email from your phone, so I highly recommend deleting it completely when you’re trying to fully check out. 

2. Schedule intentional check-in times if needed

Sometimes it’s not possible to fully get away. The best approach to this is to look at your vacation plans and identify non-stressful time slots where you could take 30 minutes to an hour to check in on work and support any immediate needs. If you value spending time with family and friends while on vacation, look for times when folks aren’t available to socialize and schedule that time for this work, so you’re not missing out on opportunities for social time. 

3. Work on your mindset to let go of stress and be fully present 

In some ways, this is the hardest step of all. We spend so much time at work and thinking about work that it can be difficult to mentally disengage. A couple of tips to approach this: 

Use Thought Downloads: if you find that your mind is racing and thinking about work, set the timer for ten minutes and write down everything that is going through your head. Review this list and identify anything that needs immediate action. Hopefully, the majority of things can be dealt with when you’re back in the office and you can now relax knowing you have a list you can review later. 

Meditate: A quick ten-minute meditation can help calm your brain and make you feel more present. It can be helpful to do this in the mornings or anytime that you feel overwhelmed. 

If you find yourself thinking about work, ask yourself these questions: Can I do anything about this right now? If no, write it down and deal with it later. If yes, ask yourself if it is essential to deal with it right now, or if you can get a similar outcome if you deal with it later. If you must deal with it now, then ultimately you should go ahead and just do that so you can stop feeling anxious. 

Ask yourself: Can I do anything about this right now? 

Write an appreciation/gratitude list of what you are experiencing while on vacation. Every night or every morning write a quick list of everything that you are grateful for and appreciate. This can really help ground you in the present and help you to focus on enjoying the moment. 

Distraction! Fill your time with activities that bring you joy and happiness. There’s nothing like laughing hysterically while attempting to ice skate backward or cozying up with a puppy by the fireplace to take your mind off of work and ground you in the present moment. 

An out of office checklist for a stress free vacation.

You want to come back to the office after being away with a renewed spirit and happy memories, not with a general sense of anxiety. By following this out of office checklist, you can truly disengage and enjoy your time, which ultimately will help you to feel more energized and fulfilled in your work when you are back in work mode. 

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