Did you know 61 percent of employed Americans expect to have to do some work while on vacation? According to a recent survey by TeamViewer, it’s true. This reality is why so many of us approach vacation with mixed emotions. You’re excited about the quality time with your family and hopeful that this will be the year you’re able to truly unplug. But there’s also a dull sense of dread as you stress about how you’ll ever get everything done beforehand. You’d love to be part of the minority of people who just cut all ties with work for the week, but you know that just isn’t a reality. Or is it?
“Successful people work with great focus and intention, and they play the same way,” says Brian P. Moran, coauthor along with Michael Lennington of the New York Times best seller The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks Than Others Do in 12 Months. “When they’re working they’re really working, and when they’re vacationing they’re really vacationing. Rest and rejuvenation are the other side of the success coin.
“You must be purposeful about how you spend the time leading up to your vacation,” he adds. “The reason people end up working from their hotel room isn’t that they just have so much to do that they can never take a break. It’s that they aren’t working with intention—and thus, they aren’t executing effectively.”
Below are a few essential tips for what you can do right now to make sure your vacation is truly a time for rest and relaxation.
Picture the perfect vacation. Hours on the beach with your kids—building sand castles and riding waves. Romantic evenings out with your spouse. A little uninterrupted reading time by the pool. These are the makings of a great vacation, and they should serve as the vision that will drive you through the hard work you’ll have to get done before you hit the beach.
Create a pre-vacation work plan. The authors’ book emphasizes the benefits of planning how you use your time via 12 week increments. Of course, as summer creeps to an end most people probably don’t have 12 weeks to work with before their vacations. That’s okay. The same principles you would use to make a 12 week plan can be used to plan out the weeks and days left before your vacation.
“Leading up to your vacation, it is a good idea to create a plan for each work week you have left,” notes Moran. “Your weekly plan encompasses your strategies and priorities, your long-term and short-term tasks, and your commitments in the context of time. For example, as part of the first week of your pre-vacation plan you might set up a meeting with your boss, colleagues, and/or clients to a) inform them of your upcoming vacation and b) let them know what projects you’re going to prioritize. Then in the last week before vacation, block out time to inform your clients that you’ll be out of the office and whom they should contact while you’re out. This helps you focus on the elements of your plan that must happen each week in order to make that perfect vacation vision possible.”
Know what to do when you’re not doing the things you know you need to do. Of course, upping the work ante prior to going on vacation won’t be easy. There will be times when your level of execution is less than exceptional, and it’s very likely you won’t be able to ignore the nagging, guilty feeling that drop in execution brings on. But the good news is you can use that feeling—what the authors call productive tension—to get yourself back on track.
Make the most of performance time and down time. As you work toward your vacation, it will be very important that you not respond to the demands of the day reactively. In other words, you can’t satisfy the various demands of the day as they are presented, spending whatever time is needed to respond without giving any thought to the relative value of the activity. You have to use your time wisely.
You can keep control of your day through time-blocking. Basically, you block your day into three kinds of blocks—strategic blocks, buffer blocks, and breakout blocks. A strategic block is uninterrupted time that is scheduled into each week. During this block, you accept no phone calls, no faxes, no emails, no visitors, no anything. Buffer blocks are designed to deal with all of the unplanned and low-value activities—like most email and voicemail—that arise throughout a typical day, while breakout blocks provide free time for you to use to rest and rejuvenate.
Don’t go it alone. It’s likely that out of your network of colleagues and friends you aren’t the only one who is a) hoping to have a work-free vacation and b) currently working frantically to make that goal possible. And if that’s the case, team up with them. The peer support you receive will be invaluable in your pursuit of the perfect vacation.
Isolate yourself from modern day distractions. In our modern world, technology can be a major distraction. When you’re focused on executing your pre-vacation plan, don’t let smartphones, social media, and the Internet distract you from your higher-value activities.
Make a keystone commitment when you start your vacation. As Moran and Lennington explain, many of their clients set a 12 week goal in a certain area—say, getting fit. Then they build a 12 week plan around it with a handful of tactics like “do 20 minutes of cardio three times a week,” “train with weights three times a week,” and so forth. But the other option is to again set a 12 week goal but, rather than building a tactical plan, identify a keystone or core action and commit to completing it every day for the next 12 weeks. It’s this second option that can help you make the most of your vacation.
“Your keystone commitment might be making breakfast for your family every morning—something you don’t get to do during a normal work week,” suggests Moran. “Or you might commit to taking a walk on the beach every day with your spouse. Or to going on a one-on-one adventure with each of your kids before the week is up.
“Setting a keystone commitment helps you avoid wasting your time on meaningless activities—like sleeping too late every day,” he adds. “Remember, your pre-vacation plan was all about spending your time with great intent and purpose so that you’d be able to have a great vacation. Why should you stop being more purposeful with your time once you’re actually on vacation? Think about the difference these relatively simple commitments can make to you and your family!”