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How to Finally Leave Work Behind for an Anxiety-Free Vacation

I’ve got a hot dog in one hand and my smartphone tethered to the other. That’s been my ‘look’ at our family holiday celebrations these last few years.

Upon reflection, this strategy of having a foot in both worlds hasn’t worked out so well. I earnestly agree with this sentiment from a 2012 New York Times article on vacation “I tried to do both things at once – work and be on vacation – and ended up doing both poorly.”

This year, I decided it was time to make a change and was relieved to learn that I’m not alone in facing vacation anxiety.

According to Shawn Achor, who is well known for his Ted Talks on the intersection of happiness and success, “poorly planned and stressful vacations eliminate any positive benefit of time away.”

It seems that the goal is not just to get-away, but to design a process to enjoy a positive, low-stress experience while on vacation. For me, my anxiety centers mostly on the work I’m leaving behind, here’s my plan:

Step 1: Get Really Clear

I’m going to start with getting really clear about my goals for vacation. I know from my own experience and current best-practices on productivity that I have a better chance of feeling successful if I narrow down the scope a bit.

Planning a vacation does seem like an odd time to be goal setting, but by identifying one purpose, it is more likely that my expectations will map to my experience. This year, for example, my goal is to deepen the bonds with my family by having great conversations.

Other examples are maybe enjoying the brilliance of the Vermont summer or creating wonderful memories with your kids. In just clarifying my goal I’m feeling more motivated to enjoy myself.

Step 2: Clear the Deck

Now that I have a clear goal in mind for my time-away I’m committed to making it happen.

Step two is to develop a pre-departure action plan at the office. I’ll tie up any loose ends on current tasks and communicate my project status to members of my team. I’ll close out the week setting up my away messages on email and voicemail and make sure my calendar is relatively clear on my first day back, so I have scheduled time for catch-up.

Step 3: Set My Boundaries

This is where I am going to get really clear about my device use and ‘checking-in’ while I am away.

I’m stepping out during a particularly busy season at work, so this may not be the best time for me to unplug completely.

To stay connected and support the team I’m planning one hour of email in the morning to stay up to date and assist where needed. Then it’s time to switch my cell phone to do not disturb and commit to being fully present at the celebration.

Step 4: Write My Permission Slip

Right before I depart I anticipate a pretty solid waffling session where I ask myself if this is “really a good time to go?” So I’ll need to write my own permission slip and remind myself that I’ll return rested and well-vacationed leading to improved productivity and a renewed enthusiasm.

This weekend, with a vacation plan in place, I’ll be hanging at the grill, enjoying time with friends and family, and maybe I’ll even get a game of badminton in. I hope you too are charting your plans for a bit of time away; it’s so beautiful here in Vermont during the summer we all need to carve out time to take it all in.

~ Sue Bette, Bluebird Hospitality / AgendaVT

Do you have a personal process around vacation planning or maybe suffer from a little bit of vacation anxiety? I’d love to hear your story, drop me a note at

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