There’s tons of content out there on the urge that millennials have to stay busy. Apparently we feel lost if we don’t have something to do, and then pile up things to do until we feel drained of all energy and end up wishing we had nothing to do.
Whether that’s true or not for our generation, it’s definitely true for me. There’s a dreadful sense of guilt that overcomes me every time I decide to take some time off – off of work, writing, even a rest day from the gym. But especially at work, it can be scary to think that others will label you “unprofessional” or “unreliable” if you’re not on your emails or phone all the time.
If you’re working in an environment that demands that – please realize it’s unhealthy. Unless your job requires you to be on-call 24/7, the importance of taking a real break needs to be echoed across the organization. But more on this later.
I recently took some real time off for my 26th birthday and flew to Lisbon, Portugal. While I joined a relative and her colleagues who were there for work, I was on the trip for a genuine holiday. It was tough and scary to step away from my role for 10 days – but I did it. Here’s how:
1. DECIDE TO DO IT.
- open up about the stress you’ve been under at work, and be honest with yourself about how you think this may affect the quality of your work if it remains unchanged.
- get educated on the important of taking a break if you aren’t already, and tell yourself IT IS OKAY – IT IS NEEDED.
- decide what kind of break you need; do you just need to curl up with a book/Netflix at home, or fly out to an exotic or favorite place? deciding on the type of break makes it more realistic and achievable, sizing it down to something you can actually achieve – rather than wasting time using your break to run errands while you didn’t really need to.
2. ORGANIZE IT.
whether you’re traveling or staying at home for the duration of your break:
- get all unfinished work out of the way before you leave. a common mistake is saying “that’s alright, if this comes up while I’m away you can reach me and I’ll get it done.” – NO. if you’re saying this to your boss to show flexibility and “professionalism”, they will probably use it to their advantage to get work done. if you’re the boss and you’re saying it to your team, you’re setting up an unhealthy level of expectation of being available all the time.
- decide on how you prefer to be contacted – choose ONE if possible, and stick to it; calls, WhatsApp, SMS, or email (unless you’re in a job that risks someone showing up at your house if there’s an emergency, make your address known) and clearly communicate this in your OUT OF OFFICE MESSAGE. if anyone forgets and they end up contacting you elsewhere, accept and remain professional but mention for them to contact you how you prefer.
- make sure whomever if taking your spot for that period has ALL the information and access they need. nothing worse than someone calling you to ask for the password of something inconveniently – just give them everything ahead of time.
- ensure you have the blessing of your manager – let them know that you plan on only being contacted for urgent matters, agree together on what the urgent matters are, and make sure you understand what is expected of you.
OPTIONAL: FIND AN ACCOUNTABILITY BUDDY.
a colleague or a team-member can hold you accountable whenever they notice you’re communicating more than agreed upon, and can alert you immediately when something of urgency happens, or if sh** hits the fan.
3. COMMIT TO IT.
there are SO many cases of the entire company fulfilling a colleague’s request to not be contacted during their time off, but they end up communicating with everyone anyway.
you’ve already understood WHY you need the time off and HOW it will help, all that remains is to COMMIT.
FOR MANAGERS: LEAD BY EXAMPLE
I manage a team of over 20 and I tend to freak out when I’m away. I worry that things won’t get done or urgent matters won’t be addressed as needed, not even mentioning the millions of “what ifs” that go through my mind when I’m taking time off. And because of this, I realized that being on my off constantly checking in with my team, and answering emails that aren’t time-sensitive or urgent at all, communicated this expectation to my team: you must be available.
Not only is this expectation unfair, it’s also unrealistic. While I’m a complete believer in being dedicated to what you do and not slacking – especially when the work of others depends on yours – I also believe in organizing and disciplining your dedication. And as a manager, making this clear to your team is crucial.
HERE’S WHAT I DID:
- I realized I was over-worked and had to take an ADVENTUROUS YET LOW-KEY break, and travel.
- I organized my work, handed over tasks to my team, gained confidence in their ability to handle things, and set the expectations.
- I sat down with my boss to express how much I need this break, how I believe it will be beneficial to my work, and what I plan on achieving upon my return.
- I sent an OUT OF OFFICE MESSAGE to colleagues – stating I will not have much access to emails and my preference to be contacted via WhatsApp (voice notes are a convenient dream come true!)
- I went on my trip, catching myself and stopping whenever I scrolled through work texts (that weren’t even sent to me anyway!) and responded to a couple of emails only because my boss alerted me of their urgency.
- I used my break to de-stress and prepare to return to work, without the dread.
- & it worked like a charm.
Please share your thoughts on your favorite ways to take some time off in the comments below!