Tell me if this sounds familiar.
I recently went on vacation. As soon as I arrived at the airport to fly home, I felt compelled to begin working. Once the laptop was open, it was all over. I soon became stressed at the volume of meetings and action items on my first day back.
Ultimately, it was just a quick panicked reaction to stuff I had under control. I took a deep breath; everything was fine.
But it made me think.
How can I prune that post-vacation panic from my life? (And “take no vacations” isn’t a response that works.) How do some of the busiest — yet most balanced — leaders handle this?
Taking a vacation is one of life’s simplest pleasures. Whether you prefer flip-flops and sand or a backpack in Europe, we all deserve to enjoy time off without feeling desperately overwhelmed the moment it’s over.
So I asked four leaders how they make life after vacation suck less. I talked with:
Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Officer at Content Marketing Institute
Alexa Schirtzinger, Director of Content Marketing at Salesforce
Jeff Rohrs, Chief Marketing Officer at Yext
Al Falcione, Vice President and Head of Corporate Messaging at Salesforce
Here’s what I learned from these busy but vacation-loving marketing leaders. I hope it helps you squeeze all the enjoyment you can from the last few moments of your next vacation.
Alexa says a less stressful post-vacation hustle begins with how you schedule the vacation the first place. She advises, “Travel on Saturday. Especially after a long trip, there's nothing worse than getting in late Sunday night (or even later than expected if you’re delayed). Give yourself a day to catch up before you return to the office.”
She then uses take Sunday as a quasi-vacation day, running errands, checking work emails, and preparing for Monday.
Robert agrees that scheduling is crucial: “You have to architect your downtimes — and this is a true art. I aim to finish projects, start new projects, and schedule conferences around the times when I want to be offline.” For example, Robert loves the December holidays and prefers to take that month off. So he schedules his work year as essentially January through Thanksgiving.
What are you most passionate about? Schedule around that.
Alexa says that vacation time can be a great time to delegate to your direct reports, who can step up in your absence. “If you'll only be gone a few days or a week, it can be tempting to let everything you'd normally handle pile up while you're gone. If you have direct reports, though, your vacation can actually be a good time for them to take on additional responsibility and handle some of the things you normally would,” she shares.
Of course, you’ll want to plan ahead for this so no one feels like new responsibilities are falling in their laps. But with a little foresight, it gives you less to catch up on and others a new opportunity.
A fully unplugged vacation sounds great, but that doesn’t have to be the reality for every vacation. Just as technology keeps us in step with our families as needed during the workday, it also helps us tune in to work occasionally on vacation.
Jeff says, “I don't fully unplug during vacation to avoid having a wall of email and issues to deal with upon my return. This is particularly true since I've become a Chief Marketing Officer. That said, however, I limit my device use on vacation to appropriate times. Limit is the key word. I’m sensitive to engage work only when we're having individual downtime or an issue demands.”
“Is it s a tricky balance? Absolutely. But as someone who has worked from home and the road for nearly 10 years, I've found a balance that works for me and my family. We simply continue to keep an open line of communication with each other so that none of our use of technology diminishes our time together,” he explains.
Robert agrees with Jeff and has his own inbox-emptying strategy. “Unplugged vacations don’t really exist. Whenever I go on vacation, I wake up a little early (or spend a little time in the evening, depending on where I am on the planet) to empty the inbox.”
“I quickly delete everything that’s spam, ‘me too’ emails (where I’m cc’d but need to take no action), and all emails that don’t require a reply.”
Robert replies to remaining emails with, “I’ll get to this on X date when I’m home,” or passes it on to someone who can help. He says that doing this every day while out helps him “totally relax for the rest of the day — and come home to only a few more emails than I would normally have.”
According to Alexa, prioritization helps make the vacation-to-work transition easier. “Before returning to work, I spend a few hours prioritizing everything I need to do when I get back. I keep it all in a running to-do list categorized by deadlines. I find this not only helps me be more productive when I'm back, but it also gives me peace of mind: once something's on the list, I know it'll get done.”
Al uses his first day back to get on top of the most pressing priorities and projects. "First morning back, I usually meet with key people for priority projects — an upcoming event or meeting that needs attention."
You know all those emails that stress you out when you’re on vacation? According to Al, we should stress about them less. He says, “It amazes me how, when I'm not around to solve a problem over email, it usually ends up fixing itself.”
So, is it time to change the way we think about vacation? In our always-on and hyperconnected world, Robert thinks so. Just as work sometimes blends into personal time, it can also be the opposite.
“One of the biggest challenges of work/life balance for me was integrating these two things, rather than compartmentalizing them. Before doing this, my wife would say I was either ‘vacation Rob’ or ‘working Rob.’ That’s when I knew things had to change,” he says.
“I’ve worked very hard over the last few years to integrate my work and my life so that they always overlap, and it balances so much better. For me, this meant giving up the notion of weekends being all play. Now I plan to not work Saturdays and I do work Sundays (usually just a few hours). This gives me lots of time to catch up with the world — and actually get ahead in most cases.”
But Robert emphasizes that it’s about balancing work and life — not just adding more work: “I balance this with taking an odd Thursday off, or I skip out on a Monday or Wednesday afternoon to go to the movies or hiking. So I have as much (or more) downtime in total, but it’s interspersed with work.”
Downtime is important. With these tips, I hope you feel inspiration to enjoy your next trip more fully — and stress less about that first Monday back.