Holidays should be the most relaxing time of the year. Some people like to spend them at home, others enjoy sunny days on the beach, a city break or backpacking around the globe. Whatever your preference, they all have one thing in common: when you come back to the office, a mountain of work is already waiting for you.
Your inbox is overflowing and work is piling up on your desk – the sheer volume of it virtually wipes out all the benefits of taking a holiday. And worse: just thinking about all the tasks waiting for you may spoil your holidays. In my career, I have seen people deal with this problem in three different ways.
The worst way: keep working during holidays
Statistics vary but indicate that anything between a third and over half of Britons check their work emails during their holidays, meaning that a huge amount of people keep working when they should be off. Holidays are important for you to recharge your batteries for the remainder of the year. A rested mind is open to new ideas and your holiday experiences may give you fresh food for thought. It’s good for your productivity. People who keep checking emails or working during their holidays don´t have a real rest and will most likely come back to work just as stressed as they were before. By doing so, you put yourself at risk of burning out, which helps no-one, neither yourself nor your company and colleagues.
The middle ground: postpone your work
The second strategy I’ve seen people use is ensuring that no new tasks get allocated to them while they are away. Daimler in Germany made this an official office policy and added a “Mail on Holiday” function for their employees. Once activated, it deletes all incoming emails and sends an automatic reply to the senders asking them to try again after the recipient’s holiday, or to contact someone else. People at Daimler come back from their break to an empty inbox.
You can also try this without an official policy being in place. Just set an automatic reply stating that you are off on holidays and have all incoming messages filtered straight to ‘Deleted Items’. If it’s important and the deadline hasn’t passed, people will contact you again.
However, while your inbox may be empty, that doesn’t mean that the work is gone. In the worst case scenario these tasks may have become all the more urgent, leading to even higher pressure after your return from holiday.
When senders reach out to your colleagues, the latter may not be aware of all the project details because they are stored somewhere in your inbox. In our recent Work Management Survey, 59% of respondents said that their team stores project information typically in one or more individual emails. Information silos are always bad, but when someone is on holiday, they become an even more serious issue.
Perhaps it is time to decide whether emails are really the best way of managing internal communication and handling projects?
This leads us to the third strategy.
Is there a better way?
If you want to come back relaxed from your holidays, you don’t want to take a gamble on how well your colleagues can back you up during your absence. Take your time to think about the best way to delegate your tasks. Provide your teammates with the knowledge and insights they need.
That said, even with the best handover, you cannot necessarily always foresee which projects might raise their heads while you’re away – and it’s likely the one you didn’t hand over that will become acute while you’re out.
This is actually a good time to look at your data structure: is everything traceable for people who are not part of the project? Are project statuses clear? Can important information be found quickly?
One way to do this is to use a project management tool, which enables you to store all the information about a project in one place so that everyone on the team who needs to have access can see all comments, plans and documents at a glance.
Collaboration tools don’t only help teammates while you’re gone, they also give you all the insights you need when you take back the reins after your holidays. Furthermore, delegating tasks for your holiday doesn’t only offer an opportunity to restructure how your team works, it’s also a chance to look at your own daily tasks. Do they all have to be done by you? Perhaps a colleague can do it more efficiently? This will give you more time to prioritise on your own core tasks.
Don´t worry about your inbox when you are on holiday. If you prepare well for it and use the right tools, there is no need to feel stressed – before, during or after. And what is more, the measures you put in place will help you throughout the year, rather than just during the holiday period.