• Elana Duffy

Working to Live: Making an occasional working vacation... work



We all do it. Just as we all eat, sleep, and complain about politicians, we also are all guilty of at one time or another checking our work email (or doing actual work) even while on “vacation.” For some reason, we feel as though the latter is, as the former items are certainly, necessary to our continued survival.

But such is not actually the case. In fact, it’s bad for our health to continue to work when we are supposed to be off the clock, and negates the vacations that are supposed to restore our bodies and minds. Americans as a whole have, on average, two weeks of vacation a year which is already one of the lowest counts for vacation days in the world. On top of that, studies show that we aren’t even using all of them, leaving as much as 40% of our days on the table. Then, when we do head out the door, we have our phones and our laptops with us, guaranteeing that some work will be done at some point during our supposed rest.

I am just as guilty as the rest, too. Recently I took a vacation to visit family and friends across the country. Yes, we went to the beach and caught up over some cocktails and good Mexican food, but at least an hour of every day I pulled over the laptop to make sure a project was on track, a client was happy, an email was answered.

It didn’t help that I was helping to organize the screening for Paul’s television pilot at the same time, either. I was told, “You are bad at vacation.”

So what am I doing about this that we can all do? What can we do to help ourselves find rest in our downtime? A few observations I’ve made recently:

Acknowledge which are working vacations and which aren’t. This seems counterintuitive, because it means we are still working during rest periods, but I’ve found if it’s inevitable then I should at least plan. I arranged time to work while visiting, and limited it as much as possible. I made the time early as often as I could so we could enjoy the days and the evenings, and plugged it into any working time of my hosts. On an approaching short vacation with friends, I plan to do the same: get an hour or two of work done early ahead of hiking, cooking, and time spent over a bottle of wine or two (or three… there are six of us, after all). But the trip after that I will be off the grid completely. I will shut off completely for days at a time, and intend to do no work other than the self-imposed requirement of sending photos of the views from the high points of the Andes. I know which vacations can take a little time for connectivity while still giving me ample time to relax and enjoy myself, and don’t push it beyond there.

Plan ahead, then do ahead. Going along with the first thought, there are some occasions in which I simply could not get everything done ahead of time. Sending reminders ahead of the screening, making sure a film festival is entered, responding to a quick client question that just came up and is critical to moving forward, none of those things could be done ahead of time. But everything else was. Documents and even emails were drafted so all I had to do was hit send. Thoughts jotted down in a project management system so they were accessible to others at Present Tense. Planning occurred, and it saved me hours of work while on the road. It took a few extra hours in the weeks ahead of the trip, but proper planning saved me from getting sand in my laptop as I tried to edit blogs on the beach.

Get help from home. This is left over a little bit from my military days, but I tell people when I’m going on vacation, where I’m going, and what my schedule is. I find that the “real world” doesn’t do this nearly as often in their efforts to keep their work and home life separate, but I find it helps. This is beyond emergency contacts (someone should always know where, roughly, you’ll be, especially if you are like me and enjoy strange vacations to remote places), this means some of your co-workers too. Enlisting their help can do more than just keep you safe, it can help you plan how to get the most of your trip. My partner knows what trips I’m on and whether or not I will have time to work on a given day, and what time I’ve allocated. If that changes day to day, I send him a message to let him know. If I’ll be totally off-line, he knows. No conference calls allowed? He will help make that happen. No emails after 10am will be answered until the next day? He covers down on operations if it can’t wait. And I do the same for him and for our writers and partners when they travel. Telling people your schedule even on vacation might be one of the best things you can do for your health.

Be Held Accountable. Plans go beyond just telling your co-workers. Let’s say you are trying to get into a fitness program, but boy do you hate the gym/running/everything most of us hate but don’t want to admit. What will most any fitness trainer tell you? Get a buddy to do it with you. Vacations are something we all want to do, but work encroaches on all of our lives (as mentioned above) and we need backup from time to time. So enlist help, and have that person hold you accountable. Set an hour in the morning for work, have your travel partner gently remind you when the time is about up and help you stick to it. By having someone there hold you to your word, or scheduling activities so you have to put down the technology and live in the moment of where you are, you’ll be sure to get the most of your vacation.

Stress is terrible for us. We need vacations, and we need to enjoy them. Living to work versus working to live is an important balance in all of our lives, as is eating right, getting enough sleep, and knowing enough about the issues to have informed political discourse when complaining about politics. If we can’t seem to shut down completely while we are traveling, we can at the very least prioritize our trip versus our work and find ways to keep a sense of balance. And as time goes on, we can leave our phones and tablets and laptops in the hotel room more and more often, and see more and more of the world.

Remember: if it doesn’t get done right now or even today, it won’t kill you or your company. If you don’t get the rest you need and deserve, however, it just might.

Elana Duffy is co-founder and COO of Present Tense LLC, a communications company dedicated to helping people express their ideas through better business storytelling. Working with everyone from authors to Fortune 500 companies, we provide a range of writing, editing, and training services. Lana is also a veteran of the US Army, a masters of engineering graduate, and a freelance writer in NYC. She is the co-author of the first in the Present Tense “singles” short ebook series, 10/10, for sale on Amazon and other major retailers.

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