Greetings from Florida! For those who don’t know much about me, I live in snowy Massachusetts. Every year, around October, I start obsessing about how to escape the cold New England winter.
It started years ago. I had a conference in Florida in February, and it happened to coincide with my husband’s 50th birthday. There was simply no way I was going to skip down to the Sunshine State and leave him (and our kids) home. A week away mid-winter was so restorative that each year since then we’ve made the trip south.
2020 was an eye opener in more ways than one. Since flights were canceled and hotels closed, like everyone else we hunkered down at home and endured. That year reinforced, at least for me, the deep need to get away during the coldest part of the year.
I’ve written about the importance of vacations before. I’m a strong believer that a change of scenery will change your attitude, whether you’re going downtown or across the country. That mental reset can be worth more than a raise.
But, if you’re a Project Manager, when is the right time to take a break? With a few exceptions (Go Live, obviously), no one time is better than another.
Let’s be honest: No one can predict the project timeline with certainty. Even the most simple, benign projects have milestones that get delayed or pulled forward depending on resource availability, funding, technical hurdles, and change requests.
Sometimes fate smiles and we decide to go away the exact perfect week. But typically, it’s “not the best time” and consequently, our stress level inches higher as the days to vacation draw near. And when we return? How often do we sit at our desks, confronted by requests that piled up while we were away, and mutter, “Ugh, was taking a week off really worth it?”
Seriously, you need that vacation. So here are some tips to help alleviate the stress of the “before and after”:
- Go away when it’s convenient for you. There’s never a good time and no one at your company will suggest you take off for a week or two. If you need to get out of the winter cold (or summer heat), that’s the time to go. You’ll feel more refreshed if you go away when you really want to.
- Don’t make the day after you return your first day back at work. It’s great to spend every second you can in paradise, but coming back on Saturday gives you time to re-acclimate, do laundry, or just relax before hitting the ground running on Monday morning.
- The more you prepare, the less they’ll need you. I’m famous for meeting with my team, my sponsors, or anyone I routinely meet with, the week before I go. I create back-up plans to the back-up plans. I remind people I’ll be away. I give them my contact information, including the best way to reach me (“text is the fastest”), and make sure they can get to it in three different ways. Basically, by the time I leave they’re saying, “Sheesh, Amy, you’re only going for a week!”
- Catch up on Monday morning, not Sunday night. You know you’ll have three hundred emails. You’ll need time to go through them. Use your catch-up time on Monday, not Sunday night. Don’t short-change yourself on that transition time!
- Block your catch-up time before you leave for vacation. If you don’t, you’ll come back to find you’re in back-to-back meetings before you’re up to date. You don’t want to go into your first meeting blind. By the way, this catch-up time means both reading and meeting. Who were the key people you met with before you left? Schedule time with them when you return. They’ll key you into what happened while you were gone.
Above all, remember that if you’ve been paying attention to your project and your team all along, it should be able to keep moving forward while you take time to recharge.