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A vacation isn’t a vacation if you drag work along. “A lot of us have trouble leaving work behind because we’re accustomed to chronic levels of busyness,” says David Ballard, Psy.D., director of the American Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program. “But humans were meant to take stress in short bursts with recovery time in between. That’s what a vacation is: A chance to recover.” Here’s how to get the most out of your time off.
Plan ahead. “Before you go away, tie up time-sensitive issues,” advises Helen Friedman, Ph.D., clinical psychologist in private practice in St. Louis, Missouri. When you tie up loose ends, you don't have to worry about whether a coworker has taken care of it for you. (And they appreciate it, too). Give clear instructions to anyone covering your workload during your time away. And before you leave, take care of the basics: Record an outgoing voice mail message with the exact dates you’ll be gone and set up an automatic email response with the same information.
Establish a no-contact zone. “Communicate with your boss, colleagues and clients about your accessibility,” says Ballard. Let them know you won't be checking email or voice mail. Everyone should know that you may not respond immediately (or not until you return) so they don’t have unrealistic expectations. If you plan to check in throughout your vacation, be specific about when (once a day or once or every few days).
Take a break from technology. “Keeping your smartphone on all the time can make it difficult to disengage from your routine, and it’s easy for something to pull you right back into work mode,” says Friedman. At the very least, turn off your ringer or suspend notifications so you’re not being alerted to new calls, messages and texts the instant they come in. Disconnecting can help you feel more refreshed upon your return.
Stay in the moment. Ask yourself how your friend, child or spouse will feel if you’re supposed to be on vacation with them, but you keep getting sucked into work. “Being engaged means staying present with and enjoying the people who are on vacation with you,” says Ballard. Remind yourself that time with loved ones is precious and limited, and make memories with them, not your workplace, when you’re on vacation.