How To Take An Actual Vacation From Work (And Avoid Your Emails)
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How To Take An Actual Vacation From Work (And Avoid Your Emails)

Happiness Hacks: Taking your brain entirely out of work mode is way harder than it should be, but here’s how you can do it.

America has a complicated relationship with vacations. Somewhere in the process of becoming a nation obsessed with the romanticized notion that anyone willing to put in the hard work can achieve whatever they want, we’ve created a work culture in which long hours and around-the-clock availability are becoming the norm.

According to a recent study, 54 percent of employees left vacation time unused last year, which amounted to 662 million unused vacation days. And when we do manage to force ourselves to seek some R&R, we still can’t kick of work obsession — millennials in particular are terrible at resisting the urge to check emails while they’re away.

But here’s the thing: Taking your brain out of work mode is a luxury, yes, but it’s also beneficial and necessary to the bigger picture of your health and well being.

A good vacation can reduce stress, improve productivity (upon your return,) and enable you to catch up on much-needed sleep.

As the summer season starts winding down and you head out on those last-gasp trips, keep in mind the following to allow yourself to soak up the maximum benefits of chilling the eff out:

Be straight-up with your bosses and co-workers.

Communication is key to keeping yourself from worrying about how your colleagues will fare without you and what will or won’t get done. The week(s) before you leave, sit down with you manager and go over everything that needs to get knocked out before you become unavailable.

If the situation is still looking hairy a few days beforehand, be sure to communicate that and let your colleagues know where you’re at so you can come up with viable solutions. Letting unfinished tasks creep up on your co-workers while you’re away isn’t cool, and the more up-front you can be about it, the more peace of mind you’ll have while you’re away.

Stand by that OOO auto reply.

Even if you’re not planning on responding to work emails while you’re away, the mere act of checking them can draw you back into work-brain in an instant. Especially if you’re the type for whom the red notification icons indicating unread emails is the digital equivalent of letting your dog’s poop sit indefinitely on your rug.

If all your email accounts funnel into a single app on your smartphone or computer, consider removing your work account temporarily so those unreads can accumulate out of sight. If you absolutely must check once or twice to make sure nothing’s on fire, forcing yourself to log in manually via your email server’s web portal will hopefully quell that itch somewhat.

If you are planning on staying completely offline, though, it’s a nice courtesy to let your team know that ahead of time. It shouldn’t be this way, sure, but because we’ve created a culture in which we’re accessible (even when we’re supposedly not,) setting firm expectations and boundaries can help you minimize the encroachment of work brain.

Remember who the vacation is for.

You, of course! But compounded on top of our reluctance to really leave our desks behind, is the pressure of social media and showing the world that you’re really, truly having the most #blessed vacation ever, and that you’re so #grateful for the sun, sand and how cute you look in the fifth attempt at capturing the perfect Boomerang of you sipping an umbrella drink.

Shifting your vacation priorities from the experience it brings you, to the way the world is going to perceive your experience, distracts you from enjoying the time you worked so hard to earn. Which isn’t very logical. But it iseasier said then done.

Ahead of leaving, take some time to acknowledge what you’re hoping to get out of your vacation and what you’ll need to achieve that. While you’re still in work mode, make yourself a list. You don’t necessarily need to hold yourself super accountable; this is not work; I repeat, this is not work.

But the mere act of identifying what you want to get out of your trip (which can absolutely be “do nothing but relax”) can help put you in the right mindset as you decide what you want your days to look like. Enjoy!