Own your time off

Think about the last time you took leave. Was it filled with a slight sense of dread and the self-talk went ‘this is the worst possible time to take leave’.

And then you take the leave and spend the time with a heavy cloud of guilt hanging over your head worrying about the ‘stuff’ that can’t possibly get done without you. Eventually you get to the end of the period and you return to work possibly more highly strung than before you left.

If this resonates or sounds familiar…I encourage you to continue reading..

The truth is there is never going to be a time where it feels like it’s finally the perfect opportunity to take leave. So knowing this universal truth, I encourage you to plan your time off in advance before you reach near burnout or breaking point.

Why to schedule your time off

Energise yourself

The anticipation of having something to look forward to is incredibly energising. When you are having an extremely tough time at work but you know you have a two week push and you get your rest and recharge, it creates a sense of invincibility of what needs to be tackled.

Half the excitement of time off is the planning. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a long time away or even leave your city. Perhaps you decided to take a long weekend to catch up on all the stuff around the house you never have time for. If you do get to travel somewhere, the anticipation of the planning is super exciting. For me personally, I love to travel and half the fun is looking up restaurants, things to do, how to live like a local. My philosophy is to find the gems that the locals frequent. When I’m having a really tough day, I do a quick 10 minutes on TripAdvisor to reignite my energy for the task at hand.

Or if you prefer to be completely spontaneous and figure out your trip as you go – that’s equally as energising. Just knowing you are changing environment is already a mental holiday.

Generate new ideas and creativity

Even if you are not in a ‘creative’ industry like writing, photography or art, time off is a huge opportunity to generate new ideas. Innovate new ways of doing things – perhaps you have an ‘aha’ about a specific process or you have time in a calm environment to think through a client relationship or a problem they’re experiencing. Just a change of environment is enough to ignite this thinking. Rarely, your best ideas will come to you at work. Think about it – how many times have you had a breakthrough moment in the shower, on the treadmill, on a walk? When you schedule yourself a break, you are allowing yourself an opportunity for your best thinking to come through.

So now I challenge you – have a look through your calendar and decide when you are going to take time off. It can be a long weekend, an entire week (or more) and schedule it.


How to plan for your time off

Well done for booking your leave! Now you have to do some prep work to make sure you can actually enjoy this time away.

Manage your outputs

Let your team members, clients and suppliers know you are taking leave in advance. Tell them ‘I’m going to be away over these dates – is there anything you need or require from me before I go?’

This creates accountability for them and you. Make sure you give them adequate notice so they can look ahead and plan accordingly. Think about things like internet access or Wi-Fi connectivity – are you in a location with no signal? How can you put the correct measures in place should they require your input on something. How will you manage payments, authorisations, etc.?

Create deadlines

I’m sure you have come across Parkinson’s Law. This law states that a task will swell in perceived importance and complexity in relation to the time allocated for its completion. So for example, if you know you have a presentation due in 3 weeks’ time, you may leave it for the last 4 days before if you don’t set a concrete deadline on when you intend to finish it. At this point is has become a mental monster coupled with stress, anxiety and overwhelm.

Establishing a due date and deadline is effectively how you budget your time and accomplish more. This is something you should implement regularly anyway but when you have time off scheduled in your calendar, setting a deadline for your deliverables in advance of your leave enables you to have a laser focus and prioritise exactly what needs to happen so you can switch off mentally when you’re away.

Deliver on the output ahead of time so you are not trying to cram everything into the last 2 days. This puts you in a highly stressed state and your body is producing high levels of cortisol and adrenaline. You may convince yourself that you do your best work under pressure. Sound familiar? The problem with this idea is that we rarely, in fact, do our best work under pressure. We may work hard and, ultimately, get the job done, but the kind of quality thinking that great results require is often impossible when the real deadline looms.

So write out a list of everything you will need to accomplish before you go and set deadlines for yourself. Take your calendar and then schedule exactly when and where you intend to get the work done. You can’t arrive at work and then figure out where that quote, presentation or meeting will fit into your day. But a Tuesday at 11am is a lot more likely to happen.

If you work in this way and manage your deliverables well ahead of time, you are setting yourself up for success to actually enjoy the time off.

Some questions you can ask yourself when you are deciding what to prioritise during the day:

  • Is this the best use of my time to achieve what I need to while I’m away?
  • How am I going to feel if I don’t get this done in time? Just that feeling of overwhelm is enough to overcome the procrastination hurdle and just get it done


Little acts of kindness

Then enjoy the planning – download an audio book, or something on your kindle or buy a paper book. Download a series you never get time for. Something that you keep ‘wanting’ to get to but are too busy. Perhaps there is an experience you have always wanted to do like a cooking course or hire bikes? Allow yourself little acts of kindness to really enjoy the experience. Perhaps you did just decide to stay in your city – why not do something novel? Pretend you’re in a new city and explore areas, experiences, tours you have never done even if you live 20 minutes from it. Create a break from the routine – don’t make it same old and just watch TV and get takeout. Go for a long drive and find a new place to eat or try that restaurant that has been sitting on your ‘someday’ list.

If you can’t change the location – be the architect of the environment and create the experience.


How to maximise your time off

Well done, you took the plunge. You booked your time off and you have actually left the building. Welcome to your leave…but how do you make sure you enjoy this time? It sounds like a silly thing to say – of course I’ll enjoy it. But the truth is we get caught up in guilt, overwhelm and a feeling of FOMO – “what if I miss a career enhancing opportunity while I’m not there?” or other ridiculous self-sabotaging thoughts to rob you of your peace of mind.

Ditch the guilt

Guilt is a waste of your energy. Once you have ensured that your deliverables are done, you should give yourself permission to switch off and be present. Allow yourself the mental freedom to unwind and be still. Now most of us have a problem not being busy because we tend to measure our self-worth by the amount of achievements we stack up in a week. Or if we aren’t running around ‘busy’ all day then we must be useless. Ditch that too along with the guilt. Give yourself permission to be there.

Being busy does not need to validate your worth as a human being. Being not doing is all that’s expected of you during this time. My kids love the Mr Men book series. Mr Rush who is always too busy and rushing everywhere – to the point where waiting for toast to brown was too frustrating – decided it’s time for a holiday. So off he goes to his beach holiday. The last page is him relaxing on the sand – having just did his 15th swim that day and that was before he had breakfast. Makes me laugh. How true is that for most of us? ‘Wow – I am having such a productive holiday! I am not wasting a minute!’

Do it your way

Start the day asking yourself ‘What do I want to do today?’ not ‘What Should I do today?’ There is a huge difference in the two questions.

If you are going somewhere abroad, you tend to arrive with a bucket list of things to tick off. Now most of the things on this list is stuff you feel compelled to do because you’re there. For example, in Paris, you should go to these particular museums. But the truth is you actually don’t enjoy museums – so then don’t go! The only reason you go is so when you return and someone asks you if you went to the expected ‘tick the box’ places – you can say yes. You are dreading the response of ‘How could you not visit that museum!’ So do the want to do’s, not the should do’s.

Be realistic

I am married to an entrepreneur who runs a successful IT business. IT means 24/7 and he is always on. On our first holiday ever before we were married, I couldn’t understand how he could be on his phone checking mails, following up with the staff, and not allowing himself to switch off. Of course I took it totally personally – how can he not allow himself to be fully present with me? Fast forward 12 years later, I now get the fact he can only relax on holiday when he knows everything is fine. When there are no surprises waiting.

So if this is you – maybe not in IT but a business owner or you just function better when you are in the know then I have good news for you. It is possible to do both but you need to set boundaries. *Huge Disclaimer* I do not encourage you to stay connected to the real world – I advocate for a mental and digital detox but I also know that you are wired like that. If you take an hour a day to stay connected – then that will make your time off more enjoyable.

Set boundaries

Make a decision you will check mails at designated times during your day. For example, in the morning at 10 and afternoon at 15:00. You aren’t having a complete digital detox but enough to allow yourself some breathing room but also keep on top of things for your own peace of mind.

Set an out of office so people are aware you are not being as responsive to emails as normal. You are allowed to do this…it is not weakness. You can read the mails but also remember to set boundaries if you decide NOT to reply immediately as there is an expectation laid out by your auto-responder. If you think you are being an A-type superstar, be careful it does not become expected of you always.

Of course if something urgent comes up, attend to it as best you can but don’t take away your time and allow it to ruin your time off. Make the distinction between something truly urgent that can’t wait and someone else’s urgency who failed to plan appropriately and are now trying to make it your issue.

And now the best part…just enjoy it because you deserve it!


Here’s to owning your time off,

Warm wishes