How to take an effective 2 weeks off

I’ve been a consultant for over 20 years: I’ve been the eager junior developer, the overworked IT guy, the senior developer, the over eager team lead, the under qualified architect. I love my career and where I am today, however, I’ve also taken a lot of time off and haven’t always had great success with actually “not working”. Where I am today, I can take 2 full weeks off from work, and actually take the time off, and enjoy it, and not work. Really.

It’s taken me a long time to get here, but I’m glad I’m here. I wanted to share what I found worked best this time around. I was surprised by how many people were surprised I was taking 2 weeks off. They were surprised I was able to. Why not?

I understand this may not work for everyone, and workplaces are different. Working at Slalom has afforded me the opportunity to really focus on my balancing my work life and my personal life.

Prepare

You have to prepare, you can’t show up on Friday and say “I’m off for the next two weeks.” I suggest the following in preparation for taking 2 weeks off:

  • As soon as you know you’re taking a vacation, let your teams know: let your manager know, let your project manager know, your scrum master, solution owner, fellow teammates, your reports, your team, everyone and anyone. Being as active as I am at Slalom, I not only let my client and project team know, but I let other internal teams and initiatives know. It took some time, but was well worth letting as many people know as I could.
  • Review your calendar for the time you’re out, and decline each meeting with a quick note stating you’ll be on vacation. Depending on the meeting, offer to provide a replacement in your absence. If it’s an important meeting, propose a new meeting time prior to leaving. As you can imagine, you’ll have to do this weeks before leaving to ensure everyone can make the new times.
  • Block the day of your return, block it now, save as much time as you can. I blocked off about 5 hours on Monday. This allows you to come back, and properly get back up to speed. I was able to meet with my team and client on an ad-hoc basis during the day, without racing back and forth for meetings. I was also able to catch up on a few emails (see below for more on email).
  • Find coverage for your responsibilities. This will vary greatly based on your job title and role, but this is absolutely necessary. Leading up to my vacation, even weeks before, I was quietly grooming some team members to be ready for my absence. I brought some people into conversations much earlier than my vacation; I enabled others to own certain pieces so they were as confident as possible without me; some I could wait until the week before to pass along the baton. The week before I left we met and reviewed what I thought might come up, what meetings needed coverage, and any additional context. It all depends. You know your work and your responsibilities, make a plan early.
  • Share the above mentioned coverage with your manager and other key players. Let everyone know who is covering what while you’re out. That can quickly set expectations…

Set Expectations

I can’t tell you how many people’s away messages include phrases like “limited access to email” or “slow reply time”. I’ve done it, and I’m sure you’ve done it. That’s not vacation, you’re still working. Set the expectation you won’t be available.

Period.

Here’s what my latest away message looked like:

Hello,

I am on vacation until August 16th, returning on the 19th. During this time I will not be checking emails. If this email requires my attention please consider resending it on the 19th, otherwise, I may not reply. After all, a lot can happen between now and then ;)

If this is an urgent issue, please contact (my manager) John Smith, smith@slalom.com.

If this is an urgent issue regarding Project Acme, please contact (my project lead) Mary Jane, jane@slalom.com.

Thank you,

David Lozzi

Crazy right? I made it clear to not expect a reply, and to resend the email later. This is my vacation. I’m not reading work emails for fun. I am certainly not replying to them. Being on the receiving end of others being on vacation, I always immediately find someone else to help me and I no longer care about the initial email.

Behind the scenes, my manager and my project lead had the permission to text me if needed. I got 1 text message the first day I was out, that was it!

Do it Right

Vacation.

Stay unplugged.

Go away. You did the prep work properly. You set expectations. Now trust your team. Worst case, something goes awry, there’s a speed bump. That’s okay, it’s not brain surgery (unless it is, then never go on vacation).

I’ve had many conversations with colleagues who go on “vacation” just to remain stressed, continue checking emails, reply to only “important emails” and so on.

STOP IT!

But I’ve always vacationed like this…

STOP IT!

Hilarious, just stop it, really.

I had a very relaxing and enjoyable vacation

After coming back, I heard jokes that were shared while I was out: “What did Lozzi even do? We don’t need him…” They say it in love. The reality of it is, for me to be stress free and truly let go of work, I needed to trust my team and set them up to be ridiculously successful without me. I think I accomplished it!

I also invited my team and colleagues into my vacation by sharing our vacationing hashtag for Instagram and Twitter. This little piece also helps them know I’m enjoying it and don’t want to be bothered.

I implore you, take time off, for real. What do you do to make sure you’re unplugged? I’m always looking for more tips.

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