It's important to take vacation; human psychology is setup to benefit across the board from detaching from work, and vacation is one of the biggest/easiest ways to do so.
Some folks have trouble taking vacation, or aren't sure how to work it in. Here are eight strategies that I've seen work, enable easier leaves, and hopefully get more benefit from the same days off.
Strategy 1: Ample Lead Time
I fit in longer vacations - 1-3 weeks - by planning well in advance. I'll likely be OOO/Hawaii in March, and plan to book the trip by the end of January. If my teams aren't able to lose me to vacation with that much advance planning? Time to fix and/or escalate; we're supposed to be taking those vacation days.
Strategy 2: The Two Week Break
Past a certain point, the longer the leave... the less work you'll come back to. If you're gone for a week, work piles up. If you're gone for two weeks, people assume you died, and residual work decreases. (Pro tip: you can also request to take more vacation than you have stored up; your manager can loan you vacation days.)
Strategy 3: Regular Scheduling
Once you have 5 weeks/year... it can feel harder to fit leave in. One easy approach is to make leaves more regular events.
- One coworker took every July off, and after two years, everyone on the team knew well ahead of time that they weren't coming in in July.
- Another coworker realized every even-numbered month has a 3-day weekend. They stretched those 3-day weekends into six weeks of leave per year, and everyone on the team knew without guessing which weeks that teammate would be OOO.
Strategy 4: Email Bankruptcy
Especially for longer leaves, please don't check mail while on vacation.
It can help to have an autoresponder that explains you're on leave, declaring "email bankruptcy", and will not be checking mail received while you're on leave even once you're back.
The autoresponder should also give the typical points of contact if someone needs to escalate, and should include the date you intend to return (when bankruptcy expires, and you'll be reading incoming emails again.)
When you do this, set a filter to auto-archive everything; this helps remove the urge to cheat and read things anyways.
Strategy 5: Catchup Meetings
You schedule 2+ weeks of vacation. Next, book a half-hour on your own calendar the day before you leave. Use this time to book catch-up meetings on the day you come back, so you can just go ask people "what did I miss?"
You can also email them ahead of time, and ask for an email summary or meeting (their choice) on the day you're back, to get you back into context faster. This should be little work on their end, enormously useful on your end.... and also pairs very well with email bankruptcy, above.
Plan to spend the entire first day back from a long leave just catching up, and it strongly helps to disconnect while you're gone.
Strategy 6: Notifications are the Enemy
If you read work email on your phone? Turn it off while on leave. Turn off automatic syncs. Turn off notifications. These will suck you in, and you will lose. Just don't do it.
Strategy 7: Regular Short Leaves
Another coworker took every second or third Friday as vacation; they loved long weekends. To each their own; just don't work while on vacation! (When on vacation, stay on vacation!)
Strategy 8: Experiences Over Stuff
Once a human being's basic needs are met (food, shelter, sleep)... we're wired to benefit from spending more resources on experiences and fewer resources on stuff.
Vacations are one way to pursue new and memorable experiences, and while it's not relaxing to do crazy stuff on every vacation... there's a lot of world out there, and vacations give us a chance to go see some it.
So, Saying It Again
1. Make sure to take your vacations (assuming you like 'em.)
2. If they seem hard to schedule, planning often helps.
3. I'm super curious to hear other work/life balance hacks, on any topic!