It’s absolutely possible to face the coming holiday season or family vacation without all the work stress getting in your way. To do it, follow a few essential guidelines to make sure your days off are free of work worries so that you can spend true quality time with family and friends:
1. Envision the holiday you want.
Picture your perfect holiday or vacation, with yourself in the picture. Vision is the starting point of all high performance, and the more personally compelling your vision is, the more likely it is that you will act upon it. Once you understand the link between your vision and your work, you can define exactly what you need to do to make the most of your time off.
2. Create a pre-holiday season plan.
The same principles you would use to make a 12 week plan can be used to plan out the weeks left before your break. Working from a plan has three distinct benefits:
- It reduces mistakes.
- It saves time.
- It provides focus.
Your weekly plan defines your short-term and long-term commitments in the context of what you have to do this week. Be sure to include other holiday-specific tasks you’ve added to your plate.
3. Communicate your plan to key players.
As part of the first week of your pre-escape plan, you might set up a meeting with your boss, colleagues, and/or clients to a) inform them of how much time you’ll be taking off, and b) let them know what projects you’re going to prioritize. On the home front, you might also get together with your spouse to work out who will be handling what personal responsibilities.
4. Attack the least appealing tasks first.
The uncomfortable tasks you avoided prior to your break are precisely the ones that will blow up, get out of control, or just keep you worrying while you’re trying to enjoy some time off. If your goal is to have some carefree days off, take care of any tasks you’ve been avoiding now so that they can’t ruin your time away and so that they aren’t on your mind when you’re trying to have a good time.
5. Exercise forgiveness for imperfect execution.
Increasing work productivity prior to taking time off won’t be easy. There will be times when your level of execution is less than exceptional, and it’s very likely you won’t be able to ignore the nagging, guilty feeling that drop in execution brings. But the good news is you can use that feeling—what I like to call productive tension—to get yourself back on track. Our natural inclination when confronted with discomfort is to resolve it. In your case, it might mean resolving that you simply can’t get everything done before your time off that you need to get done. But, productive tension can also provide the impetus to move forward. When you eliminate bailing out as an option, then the discomfort of productive tension will eventually compel you to take action and execute your plan.
6. Make the most of performance time AND down time.
As you work toward your time off, it will be very important to be proactive and intentional, and not reactive. You can’t satisfy the various demands of the day as they are presented, spending time responding without giving any thought to the relative value of the activity. Use your time wisely.
7. Keep control of your day through time-blocking.
Plan your day into three kinds of blocks—strategic blocks, buffer blocks, and breakout blocks. A strategic block is uninterrupted time that is scheduled into each week. During this block, you accept no phone calls, no faxes, no emails, no visitors, no anything. Buffer blocks are designed to deal with all of the unplanned and low-value activities—like most email and voicemail—that arise throughout a typical day, while breakout blocks provide free time for you to use to rest and rejuvenate. Again, be sure to factor non-work related holiday tasks into your blocked out time. If you don’t, these will be precisely the tasks that you’re either squeezing in at the last minute or end up doing in lieu of finishing up that project or returning a client’s call.
Don’t underestimate the importance of breakout blocks. Even before your time off you need to schedule time to refresh and reinvigorate, so you can continue to engage with more focus and energy. And keep in mind, your breakout blocks are great for scheduling the fun activities to de-stress like taking the kids ice skating or watching your favorite movie.
8. Don’t go it alone, but choose allies wisely.
It’s likely that out of your network of colleagues and friends you aren’t the only one who has ever worked frantically to have a work-free vacation. If that’s the case, team up with like-minded co-workers to meet your goals. Your chances of success are seven times greater if you employ peer support. In working with thousands of clients over the past decade, we have found that when clients meet regularly with a group of peers, they perform better; when they don’t, performance suffers. It’s that simple. The caveat to this guideline is, who you associate with matters. Stay away from victims and excuse makers. Treat that mindset like a deadly, contagious disease.
9. Isolate yourself from distractions.
In our modern world, technology can be a major distraction. When you’re focused on executing your plan, don’t let smartphones, social media, and the Internet distract you from your higher-value activities. If you aren’t purposeful with your time, you’ll get thrown off course. Allow yourself to get distracted by emails, social media, or the latest viral video, and before you know it, you’ll be working on the project you didn’t finish while the rest of your family is laughing and having fun in another room. Learn to isolate yourself from distractions when there is important work to be done.
10. Make a keystone commitment for your holiday break.
Identify a keystone or core action and commit to completing it every day for the next few weeks. Your keystone commitment might be making breakfast for your family every morning—something you don’t get to do during a normal work week. Or, you might commit to doing a different activity with your family each day to get into the vacation spirit. Setting a keystone commitment helps you avoid wasting your time on meaningless activities. Remember, your break plan was all about spending your time with great intent and purpose so that you’d be able to truly enjoy your time off. Why should you stop being more purposeful with your time once you’re actually away from the office? Think about the difference these relatively simple commitments can make to you and your family!
Your time off is precious. Don’t ruin it by giving your smartphone all the attention. You need that time to rest and rejuvenate so that when you do go back to work you’re ready and committed to making great things happen. And you and your family deserve that uninterrupted time together. Set your vision. Make a plan. Stay the course. When you’re relaxing with your family instead of fielding work calls, you’ll be so glad you did.
Brian P. Moran is founder and CEO of The Execution Company, an organization committed to improving the performance and enhancing the quality of life for leaders and entrepreneurs. He has served in management and executive positions with UPS, PepsiCo, and Northern Automotive and lives in Michigan with his wife, Judy, and their two daughters.
Michael Lennington is vice president of The Execution Company. He is a consultant, coach, and leadership trainer, and is an expert in implementing lasting change in organizations in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Michael lives with his wife, Kristin, and their children in northern Michigan. Together with Brian Moran, Lennington authored The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks Than Others Do in 12 Months.