Feeling overwhelmed? Inbox overflowing? Email box full? Projects piling up? Afraid you are going to lose it? You are likely experiencing a common challenge in our society – stress. Most of us are balancing multiple jobs, family, avocations, and other responsibilities. It is possible to love your work and the people you work with and still get stressed. In fact, little stressors often add up without our awareness. It may be time for a much needed vacation. However, just considering a vacation brings up two primary fears for most: Work will discover that they can do without me and I will lose my job; or, They can’t do without me so I will be swamped with work while away, so what’s the use. Neither needs to keep you from a work – leisure balance.
Balancing all those responsibilities is like juggling. However, many do not realize that the secret to juggling is keeping your eye on the ball in your hand. You can do nothing about the balls in the air that will either fall where you can catch them or not. The only ball over which you have any control is the one in your hand. When we get stressed, we tend to get so distracted that we can no longer focus on the task at hand and will therefore begin dropping those balls.
So, if you do not recognize the signs of stress and address them, you are more likely to lose your job from your increasing lack of concentration and productivity. That should address fear number one, better to notice and address the stress before it jeopardizes your employment. Fear number two is a tougher challenge as it requires you to be proactive and to set healthy boundaries. You can achieve balance and enjoy a renewing vacation by applying the following do’s and don’ts.
- monitor your stress
- apply stress-management techniques
- set a schedule
- assign a vacation buddy
- set vacation protocols
- ignore stress
- put off your vacation
- leave things to chance
- check email throughout the day
- call in
Recognize the signs of stress such as fatigue, tension, difficulty staying focused and on task, and being easily distracted. If you wake up and find it hard to get motivated to go to work, you are likely stressed. If you find yourself wanting to stay longer at lunch, you are stressed. Notice your body. Aches and pains are signs of stress. Notice them and respond accordingly.
There are many different stress-management techniques. One simple and effective one is deep timed breathing. Inhale on count of four, hold for four, exhale for four and hold for four. Repeating this cycle breaks the fear cycle that locks the breath and the anxiety cycle that speeds up the breath. You can also apply additional techniques like a short walk outside, listening to relaxing music, targeted exercises, or meditation. Whatever you choose, use it strategically when you are aware of stress building.
Just like the juggling analogy for balancing responsibilities effectively, the same strategy is effective for your vacation. To enable you to focus on the ball in your hand (vacation) you need to set some specific times to focus on other responsibilities. For example, you may choose to view and respond to (emergency) emails every morning when you first arise. You will want to put a time limit on it (20 minutes). Such a strategy can allow you to be responsible to work, while letting you let go of work while on vacation. Communicating your schedule and protocols to your work and especially your vacation buddy will help.
A vacation buddy in this case is someone from your work environment whose judgment you trust and who you can assign to cover specific tasks for you while you are on vacation. This is a reciprocal relationship such that you will do the same for your buddy when she or he goes on vacation. You need to outline specific protocols for your buddy such as those outlined below.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Your vacation buddy as well as other co-workers and your boss will benefit from specific vacation protocols. As mentioned previously, you can inform them that you will be checking flagged emails (you will give protocols to your buddy of what are emails she or he can address, what are emails that can wait for your return and what are emails that need to be addressed by you) each morning. If any emergencies arise after that time, they are to contact your buddy first and if she or he cannot address them, the buddy will have your cell-phone for you to be contacted. Add any specific protocols that will allow you to feel comfortable that things are handled unless you are specifically needed. This can let work be out of sight and out of mind until someone brings it to your attention.
Ignoring your stress can be very detrimental on your health, life, and employment. Even if your boss does not notice your diminished focus and productivity, eventually the stress will result in time away from work most often from illness such as colds and flu. Either way your work and life will be negatively impacted.
If we wait for an opportune time in which to take a vacation, it will likely never happen. In our fast-paced society, there are always new challenges and issues to address. A vacation is for your health, wellness, and to enable you to be more focused and productive at work. It is a win/win for you and your company if done properly.
Failure to plan is planning to fail. Taking a little time to think things through and plan for contingencies will help you to relax while knowing that your job tasks will be covered in a responsible manner.
Remember that the two fears listed originally will make most of us want to check email every chance we can. However, doing so is like constantly checking for where the work “ball” is in the air, which will only distract you from enjoying your vacation. Trust your buddy and protocols. If there is truly an emergency, your buddy knows how to contact you. Allow your vacation activities to do their job.
Although calling in once or twice to check in may not be detrimental, it does negate your protocols and can open the door to breach of those boundaries. Trust the process that you set up. If they need you, they know how to reach out to you.
Applying the above strategies should help you address stress before it becomes too detrimental. It should also help you get the most out of that rejuvenating vacation. Remember that a vacation when done correctly will make you a better and more productive worker. It is time well spent. Enjoy it!