Regardless of whether you’re finally taking that trip to Italy this summer, or simply using a couple of weeks for a “stay-cation” near the home, it’s important that you make the most of your time off. Doing so requires planning. Here are some time-tested tactics I’ve seen used by very-successful career pros to ensure they get the most of their time away from the job:

Part One: Before you leave the office:

1. Tidy Up. You don’t want to have a lot waiting for you when you get back; it will just weigh on you during your “off time” and make it more difficult to enjoy the break.

Walking away with a clear desk and clear head will make it far easier to de-compress right away.

2. Plan well, save stress. Ask someone to be your cover- off. This person should be able to address important issues while you’re out. Brief her/him – and the boss – about any potential issues that may arise.

If you are a one-person organization, inform key contacts that you will be gone and provide names and contact information for those who will step in during your absence.

3. Plan for a smooth re-entry. Ideally you can schedule your first day back in the office to be a Tuesday so that you’ve got a shortened work week, but if not, you may want to drop by the office during the weekend prior to your scheduled return.

Block-off the first day back on your calendar so you don’t have any crises or critical meetings immediately after arriving back. Create a reminder memo or list of to-do’s to review when you return so you get back in the game quickly.

Part Two: When you are away:

4. First, make a commitment to yourself – and your loved ones – that this is going to be a genuine break. Tell everyone at work that you’re going; the more people you tell the more likely you are to honor your commitment.

5. No email, no voicemail, or business calls. You are taking time off to replenish yourself. It doesn’t work if you do it “half-way”.

I often hear from people that they can’t do this because they’re too important to the organization.

If you are saying these things to yourself, Watch Out! They will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and you risk becoming one of those Eyore types who’s always telling everyone how sad your life is.

6. Understand that, to be most valuable, your time off needs to be more than simply “vegging- out”. Recent research shows this to be very clear: To be most satisfying, leisure should resemble the best aspects of work: challenges, skills and important relationships.

The research also states that leisure has its own hierarchy. At it’s lowest, it’s a search for diversion, higher up it’s a search for pleasure, and at the top, it’s a search for meaning.

People who engage in skill-oriented leisure pursuits score higher on intelligence tests. How we vacation can make us stupider or smarter.

7. Get some rest. The most-satisfied people always state that while they “play hard”, they also treat their body with respect.

According to a new Wellness Study by mattress company Tempur-Pedic, 90% of people experience problems at work due to poor sleep. Use your vacation to replenish yourself.

Finally have a plan for when you come back from vacation:

8. Get back your circadian rhythm. It’s self-defeating to try to get the most vacation time by staying in that mode right up the last minute. Your body clock needs to get back into its regular routine. Plan to be back in your own bed, on your regular schedule, at least 2 nights prior to the first day back on the job.

9. When you return to the job, get back up to speed. Debrief with everyone who can fill you in on what’s hot and what’s gone on. Go through your mail box (paper and email).

Then prioritize what needs to be done immediately, what can wait for 2 days, and what can wait for a longer time.

10. Make the best use your new “clear eyes”. If you make the most of your vacation time, chances are that when you get back to the job, you will have a newfound, albeit perhaps short-lived sense of clarity and energy. Build on this by adding new habits into your life.

Research shows that regular power naps on the job can provide a much-needed boost during the day, try it out and see if works for you.

At the end of your life, how you spent your vacation and leisure time may be more important than even what you’ve done at work. Treat this time with the respect you’re due.


Career and Leadership Coach