I am not a great vacationer. I wish I was. I am not alone, a lot of CEOs and senior executives confess that they do not disconnect well. They think about business a lot when they are gone, check in, keep their phone and email available, and are not as “present” on their vacation as they would like to be. As a fellow sufferer, I have studied how to be a better vacationer. I tested some guidelines on a recent break in Mexico and they worked really well.
- Be gone for enough time to disengage. It takes me 1–2 days to disengage my mind and my sense of urgency from work. A three-day weekend is usually fun, but not truly a vacation because it does not allow me to totally release my mind from work. You have to give yourself enough time to break your rhythms of office life. I know for me that six days is the very minimum.
- If unplugging is not possible, ration. All of the items I have studied about this topic have advocated a 100 percent disconnection. I know they are right and I know it is not happening. So I ration instead 20-30 minutes of email when I get up in the morning. I delegate or defer almost all responses to someone on my team back home or until I return. The “no contact” rule is better, but beyond my human capacity, so I ration.
- Avoid digital temptations. Shut down the email, texting, and voice as much as possible. I am in Mexico watching three guys from my balcony overlooking the pool and beach. One is IN the pool on the phone, one is walking the beach on the phone, and one is at the bar on the phone. All are with their significant others. They can’t all be making dinner reservations. If the phone had been left in the room, they would not be on the call.
- Go to places that will require your involvement and interaction. Whether you golf, tour museums, do ATV tours, or go antiquing, there are activities in your life that require your full involvement. Do as many of those as possible on your vacation. Get out of your head.
- If you are a planner, have a plan. For planners, the idea of “making it up as we go” can create anxiety. A happy middle-ground is a couple of anchors in the day for events relieves some of the no-plan stress. A particular restaurant for a meal, a tour that has a set start time, or even a morning walk by the beach gives enough structure that the time does not feel out of control.
- Feed your mind, body, and spirit. Take a book, make certain to get thirty-to-sixty minutes of exercise, and take some time for reflection. It can be very re-energizing. My favorite reflection exercise is to take ten minutes, write a person’s name at the top of the page and list all of the positive things about that person that make me grateful.
- Keep a pad of paper and pen with you. Ideas are going to come to you while you are on vacation, sometimes your best ones. If you can get them down on paper, you can get them out of your head and keep up with your vacation. If you don’t, you will obsess a bit on your idea and miss some of your relaxation.
- Don’t burn up on re-entry. My worst habit is to book my day solid the first day I get back into the office. I am immediately thrown into the deep, cold water of work with little time to acclimate. As best you can, try for a light schedule at least the first day back so that you don’t become a meteor, burning up on re-entry to the work’s atmosphere.
- Remember, you had the vacation, not your team. Your team has been working, so make certain that your boundless energy doesn’t become their endless task list. I used to have a boss a long time ago who was so concerned that everyone had goofed off while he was gone that his first week back he was a task-hurling S.O.B.—completely unnecessary, but I see it happen a lot.