Taking a vacation is critical to establishing some sort of divide between work and more work—we know that, right? Right.

In fact, those breaks are supposed to make us more creative, productive, engaged, etc. But for too many people, the stress of trying to get away, and then catch up when they return, makes the process of taking a vacation counter-productive.

When I’ve taken previous vacations away from my usual environment and life, my goal was to feel completely unwound by the third day. I can feel your skepticism: The third day? Isn’t that a long time to unwind and sink into your vacation? Yes, yes it is. But I am a product of my environment, and in my previous lives, that seemed to be the norm.

For the first 25 years of my working life, I lived in the corporate work world—specific weeks for vacation, never completely disconnected just in case I was needed or the only one with the answer (ha-ha!), and usually working long hours in the days leading up to my flight. The ten years after that, I was operating my own business—which meant that I was more in charge of my schedule, but also that every day or week away from my business meant potential revenue lost. Not exactly the best conditions for truly unplugging and relaxing.

In either case, it was a huge chore to get ready to go on vacation—and even worse coming back. I always felt like I was at least a month behind, despite being gone for just five business days. That first week back I ended up working ruinous hours that destroyed whatever rest and relaxation I’d just enjoyed.

Since I became a full time member (officially 1 year ago) of the Actionable team, I’ve taken breaks and vacation time, but still checked in. My iPad Pro almost never leaves my side and if I had Wi-fi, I’d find time each morning to answer emails, run quick meetings as needed, and stay in touch on Slack. It was a bit of a blend of anxiety of letting go, and the ever present fear of missing out. Of course, that meant I was never truly on vacation. Until this year.

This year, I took a nice sunshine break and got away, where there was no ‘real’ wifi (seriously!). Just sunshine and great company, good food and relaxation. Instead of the typical three days it used to take to settle into vacation—let go of the everyday routine, break my habit of checking email, and focus on being present in the moment—I was able to unwind much quicker, thanks to some simple planning, and an awesome support team and execution.

I love my remote team and the work I do, and yet, I was able to disconnect easily (and still miss them!). Here’s why:

  • I let everyone I work with, clients and team members, know that I would be away with plenty of advance notice. They could get onto my calendar if needed, and we could wrap ongoing projects up, or plan steps for my return.
  • I had an excellent communication in place with key (and indispensable) team members and partners in the business, where I provided notes on client files. I also booked recap and debrief meetings for after I returned.
  • I left with a clean desk and empty inbox, and prepared my calendar for the week I returned—including some extra space built in for any suprises that may popped up while I was away.
  • I set up an out of office reply, sharing my intention to be ON vacation (setting the expectation that I would respond to emails when I returned—but not sooner) with contacts in place to jump in and support as needed.

And then, as a bonus, I planned an extra day off, between arriving home from my trip and when I would be “back at work.” This allowed me to catch up on all my email and other communication at my own pace. I was so excited Monday (well actually on Saturday before returning to work), that I was caught up, in the know, and ready to jump all the way into my day.

The biggest reason I was able to hit the ground running was one tool: Slack. I love Slack! And I love how my team has developed a strong discipline around our communication in Slack, using channels for group projects and sub-team specific work. By taking time on the day before I was set to return to read through my Slack channels—2 solid hours of catching up on what the team had been working on—I was up to date on everything in our business and was ready to work without having to spend the week back feeling behind.

It was a bit surprising to feel both excited and relaxed about coming back to work—I wouldn’t have to spend the next week feeling out of the loop—all because of one well-used tech tool.

As a tech company and as a small, remote team, we have spent a great deal of time considering how we communicate: email, Slack, texts, Zoom calls, phone calls—the list could go on. By being very diligent about establishing and communicating our expectations for how we stay in touch, and being respectful to each other’s communication style and needs, we’ve gotten really good at keeping information flowing—in the right channels, to the right people, without limiting participation or making rules.

These means that team members who aren’t involved in particular projects still have the opportunity to stay in the loop and offer input, and we can tag people into threads and discussions if we need an action from them.  

When I got back to my desk, I felt so connected to our work and team because of the information on Slack. Instead of needing a rehash aspects of our roles and work, I was able to dig in and formulate questions to deepen my understanding, saving all of us time and frustration.

The way that we’ve divided our communication channels made catching up much easier: when I was catching up on emails, I was able to focus on problem resolution, responding to questions, or meeting planning with our partner community. When I was on Slack, my brain could be easily immersed in what the team had been working on. The clarity of those two communication channels helped me to focus on each side of my work more effectively—and I didn’t have to switch back and forth between modes of thought.

This has been the smoothest transition from vacation back to work for me to date. As you get ready for your next adventure, keep these tips in mind:

  • Look at the systems that are in place to facilitate communication in your organization. Does each team member feel like they have the information they need to do their jobs? If you answer “no,” or aren’t sure, take some time to explore new tools, norms, and etiquette around communication. When you return from vacation, reserve some dedicated time in your calendar to catch up on the communications you missed.
  • Don’t rush the preparation for your vacation. I added time to my calendar to get ready for vacation two weeks before I left. This dedicated time ensured I didn’t leave things to the last minute, and it greatly contributed to my peace of mind while I was away.
  • While you’re preparing to go away, make a plan for returning. Book critical meetings before you leave, build extra time in your calendar to deal with any surprises that popped up while you were away (chances are, there will be at least one unexpected task to deal with), leave yourself notes on the status of ongoing projects, etc. Knowing that I had prepared time and space to get back to work left me peaceful and at ease.
  • BE on your vacation. When you can count on your team to be there for your clients because of the strong communication plan and focus on transparency, it becomes easy to do so.

I am still rested and relaxed from my vacation, and I have an abundance of energy to tackle the work I love. Using these planning strategies, and working with a team that has clear channels for communicating meant I could return to my desk feeling connected to my team and the business. I didn’t have to do 40 hours of catching up while doing 40 hours of work—so I could start contributing immediately, without experiencing that FOMO of the past.

And just one step further, I was able to share my learning with a colleague heading out on vacation just after me, and seeing her put this thinking into action made me even more grateful for our Slack and our internal team communication process. It works—try it! Plan your next adventure, and go be on your vacation—not still halfway at work.