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Woo, vacation season! Whether you're heading somewhere tropical or hiding from the heat at a slightly cooler destination, you’re probably just waiting for the moment you can set that out-of-office automatic email. But not planning ahead can set you up for office disaster. Don’t let your eagerness to trade work for play mean you’re leaving your office in a frenzied mess of “but I thought you were doing that!” To avoid stressing about work during your much-deserved downtime, here’s an essential checklist of 8 things you absolutely need to do before you jet out of the office and into the sunshine.

01. Leave your assignments in the best hands.

Whether you’re a freelancer who works remotely or you manage multiple clients, clearly communicate what needs to get done before your vacay and what may need to wait until you get back. Ask what needs to be prioritized. Schedule short meetings with key players a few weeks ahead of your vacation to review important projects and deadlines that may need to be reassigned.

02. Inform others well ahead of time.

No one likes being told you’re leaving three days before an important deadline for an even more important project. Be respectful of your coworkers, clients, and your business' time and resources. Everyone involved should know about your plans at least two weeks in advance.

03. Mark it in your office’s public calendar.

Create an event for the time you’ll be away and unavailable; similarly, note when you will have some limited availability (e.g., on your way to the airport or in between flights). Bonus points for a bright, eye-catching color. This will prevent colleagues from accidentally scheduling you in a meeting even though you told them three times you’ll be gone (some people just need to see it visually!).

04. Forget about "Inbox Zero".

Time management expert and Verily contributor Laura Vanderkam told Business Insider last October, "There is no correlation between having an empty inbox and being successful." Cue a sigh of relief. Rather than trying to empty out your inbox, Lifehacker recommends only using a limited set of labels to categorize every new email that comes in:

  • To do
  • Admin
  • E-Commerce
  • Contact and Friends
  • Newsletters and Notifications
  • Reminder

Everything else that doesn't fit into one of these categories can probably be archived. Vanderkam writes, "Better to realize that anything you haven't gotten to after a week or so will have either gone away or been thrust back upon you by follow-up messages or calls. You can probably stop thinking about it." Starting this habit now will help you navigate the inevitable mound of messages that await you when you get back.

05. Maintain a light work manual of need-to-know info.

In his book Linchpin, innovator and author Seth Godin says that every twentysomething should be indispensable. But for the times when that's impossible, it's a good idea to create a manual for your role that you can edit as you go. It can be a simple Google Doc that you share with your team when discussing who will be covering your duties while you’re sipping something fruity on a beach. Write out the tasks you do on a daily basis, including seemingly mundane info like any passwords or company accounts that others will need access to while you’re gone. You might not need to write every single thing down, but making sure your office partners are aware of what you do will help everything sail a little smoother in your absence.

06. Make it easy for others to remember what they're doing for you.

For tasks that require daily upkeep—like asking your work BFF to babysit your succulents—leave a physical reminder on their desk like a Post-it note and schedule regular reminders to pop up on their calendar when the job needs to get done. Bonus: bring small souvenirs from your trip as a token of your thanks!

07. Prep your outbox for battle.

This is the obvious one, but it’s still important. Set up an automatic out of office message to respond back to people with details about when you'll be back, how to contact you in an emergency, and who will be taking the helm in your stead. Make a list of all the probable reasons someone might email you, then write out the list of solutions for recipients, including who else in the office to contact.

08. Clean your workspace.

After spending a week away from home or an afternoon in a crowded airport, coming back to a clean house helps me relax and makes settling back into my regular routine much smoother. The same applies for your workspace. Clean out folders, organize your desk, wipe down your screen(s) and keyboard, and toss out any old papers or trash you’ve been hoarding. If you’re one to keep food in the fridge or snacks in your desk drawer, make sure you’re not leaving things like fruit or other perishables for your co-workers to unpleasantly discover later.

Like forgotten lunch containers in the fridge, nobody wants to come back to a hot mess. Leaving explicit instructions and well-rounded info allows other capable hands to take it from here so you can fully enjoy out there. Bon voyage!


Photo Credit: Andrew Neel