Prepare yourself mentally for a holiday

Not in the sense that you’ll feel good if you pretend you have a holiday coming. Rather in the sense that if you dread holidays or you dread how you feel at the start of them plus everybody around you can’t bear your company until halfway through the trip, you can do something about it in advance.

As you start your vacation, you’ll want to relax as quickly as possible. But a more effective approach is to transition slowly, allowing your mind and body to get used to the change, particularly if your prep time was very stressful. Research shows that stress can dampen our immune system. It’s true that stress hormones like cortisol prop us up for a time. But if we relax too quickly, letting go of that support before our immune system can recuperate, we can expose ourselves to illness. So maintain a similar level of mental and physical activity for the first few days of your holiday then ease into full relaxation.

Get in the Right State of Mind for Vacation – Alexander Caillet, Jeremy Hirshberg and Stefano Petti, Harvard Business Review (29 June 2015)

Read the full piece for a lot more advice on how to treat your holiday as a job.

You possibly are or aren’t more productive when you have time off

There’s a snippy article in the Harvard Business Review that begins:

We were recently working with a company in Amsterdam, and having difficulty getting a summer meeting scheduled because of the number of executives who were on vacation. Experiencing some frustration, we began to wonder how this company actually got its work done.

Ewwww, catty.

But their VP of HR assured us, “I am confident that because of the rest and break from work that our European executives get more accomplished in their working days than those in the U.S. who burn themselves out.”

Harvard Business Review then says “this seemed worthy of some research” but you have to read it as Challenge Accepted.

After that, it gets a bit muddy. Are you more productive if you have time off? The best way to summarise the findings is in that wonderful Simpsons quote: “Short answer yes with an if; long answer no with a but”.

Read the full piece by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman (HBR 17 June 2015) to see them throw statistics in your face and then try to play it both ways.

How to cope with summer

It’s hot, you’re supposed to be on holiday and enjoying yourself, but did I mention it’s hot? You’re working but shouldn’t be. You’re not working but should be. Summer is hell and sometimes it’s as hot as there.

The Positivity Blog has a lot of advice on how to chill out in every sense. I’m not keen on all of it but I like this one about what to do when you’re not working, when you are on holiday:

Go slow. You’ll be less stressed. And you’ll enjoy all the people, sights and experiences so much more because you’ll naturally take the time to appreciate them.

10 Small Ways to Make this the Least Stressful Summer of Your Life – Henrik Edberg, Positivity Blog (10 June 2015)

You could also bring some work with you. That’s my contribution here.

Read the full piece.

Bit late now: why you shouldn’t have taken a holiday in August

Don’t do it in any August, any year. So if you’re the sort to already be plotting a world cruise for August 2015, bump it to September. Or bring it forward to July. Anything you like, really.

Just not August:

Let the slackers and the fashionably exhausted crowd burn their vacation days. Their absence makes August the best month to get work done.

7 Reasons to Skip Vacation in August – Ilan Mochari, (7 August 2014)

I’m sold. Read all seven reasons in the full piece.

Thanks to Lifehacker for spotting it after I’d been away.

How to handle email backlog: Select All, Delete, Shudder

When Russell T Davies, with Julie Gardner and more, brought back Doctor Who to television, he automatically got a BBC email address. He just didn’t know about it for years and the story goes that he only found out when BBC IT finally asked him about it. He sat there with someone from IT as they opened the mailbox and of course there were eleventy-billion unread emails.

Davies says he had the IT person delete the lot.

I’m with him there, I think I’d have tried reading them but ultimately he was right and I’d have been wrong. Nonetheless, for my own email inboxes that I actually know about and actually use, I couldn’t do that.

Now Daimler is doing it for us. Specifically, for its employees when they go on holiday. If they want.

The full story is on the Financial Times website where you’ll need to register but, as a non-FT registeree, I found it on The Atlantic which quotes the Times as saying:

The Stuttgart-based car and truckmaker said about 100,000 German employees can now choose to have all their incoming emails automatically deleted when they are on holiday so they do not return to a bulging in-box.

The sender is notified by the “Mail on Holiday” assistant that the email has not been received and is invited to contact a nominated substitute instead. Employees can therefore return from their summer vacation to an empty inbox.
“Our employees should relax on holiday and not read work-related emails,” said Wilfried Porth, board member for human resources. “With ‘Mail on Holiday’ they start back after the holidays with a clean desk. There is no traffic jam in their inbox. That is an emotional relief.”

Auf wiedersehen, post – Daimler staff get break from holiday email – Financial Times (August 2014)

Work like you’re going on holiday

I’m feeling this. Before I went away for my 20th wedding anniversary holiday, you know that I had to work like crazy. You do exactly this before any long break. And then you know that when you get back you’re going to be working like mad to catch up – plus you’ll find it hard to ramp back up to normal working speed.

It’s enough to make you ditch holidays.

But 99U suggests you pretend you’re going on more holidays and says:

The average worker’s backlog is around 30 hours, or roughly three or four days of things that are begging to be finished. How can you power through this nagging heap? Simple: treat it like you’re going on vacation.

Think of all the things that you do before you’re about to go on vacation — you rush to define the priorities, necessities and back-up plans to prepare your clients and/or team for a period of time in which you’ll be “off the grid.” Work like you’re about to go on vacation and you’ll be able to de-clutter and step far away from your projects without worry.

Backlogged? Work Like You’re Going on Vacation – Hamza Khan, 99U (8 August 2014)

I’m not sure I could keep up the pace myself. But Khan’s full piece includes advice about what to do in this faux pre-holiday time and how to manage it without burning out so much that you need a real break.

New York Times on the need to take a break

I slept in this morning. It’s my first Monday back working and I slept in. Woke at 8am, it’s now slipping a wee bit past 9am and if you can really call nattering to you work, then this is the first work I’ve done. I am hours behind and I feel great.

I’m going to have to think about this. But as if to aid me thinking about it, I just read this:

Every day we’re assaulted with facts, pseudofacts, news feeds and jibber-jabber, coming from all directions. According to a 2011 study, on a typical day, we take in the equivalent of about 174 newspapers’ worth of information, five times as much as we did in 1986. As the world’s 21,274 television stations produce some 85,000 hours of original programming every day (by 2003 figures), we watch an average of five hours of television per day. For every hour of YouTube video you watch, there are 5,999 hours of new video just posted!

Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain – Daniel J Levitn, New York Times (9 August 2014)

I know what you’re thinking: who’s the slacker who didn’t make it 6,000 hours?

But Levitin’s point is that we need to step away from all this once in a while. And apparently, for a great number of people in the US, that once in a while is right now:

This month, many Americans will take time off from work to go on vacation, catch up on household projects and simply be with family and friends. And many of us will feel guilty for doing so. We will worry about all of the emails piling up at work, and in many cases continue to compulsively check email during our precious time off.

But beware the false break. Make sure you have a real one. The summer vacation is more than a quaint tradition. Along with family time, mealtime and weekends, it is an important way that we can make the most of our beautiful brains.

Is your brain beautiful? Or is this like football, which I think is called the beautiful game for absolutely no reason whatsoever?

Levitin’s full piece is an opinion article in the New York Times but it’s opinion backed up by some academic research that he and his colleagues have done. Read the lot for a bit more waffle but also a great deal more concrete bits about handling how our attention is so assaulted.

Do bring technology on holiday, but…

I once brought a typewriter on a romantic holiday. Bizarrely, we’re still married. But while I was undeniably stupid then, we are all now quite a bit stupid because we bring the modern equivalent with us everywhere. Plus, nobody tried to send me messages through my typewriter.

Well, Angela did lift it over my head one morning, but.

Along with our newish ability to bring our work with us everywhere has come an insistence that we shouldn’t. That this is all A Bad Thing. But the Harvard Business Review suggests that since we’re going to do it anyway, since we are going to bring this stuff with us and keep checking our screens, let’s at least be smart about it.

The biggest obstacle to disconnecting isn’t technology: it’s your own level of commitment or compulsion when it comes to work. If you work 80 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, you may find it pretty hard to get your head out of the office – and even harder to break the Pavlovian association between hearing the ping of an incoming email and immediately shifting into work brain.

That association is exactly why it’s so useful to develop strategies that put your devices in vacation mode. You probably don’t leave Oreos in the cupboard when you’re dieting; for the same reason, it’s best to put work out of arm’s reach when you’re on vacation. Instead of relying on sheer willpower to keep you from checking in on work, you can use your vacation tech setup – and a little up-front planning – to support your efforts to minimize work time.

With that setup in place, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of online connectivity and digital tools, as well as the benefit of disconnecting from work. And instead of apologizing for bringing a phone on vacation, you’ll be able to relax even with your devices in tow.

The Right Way to Unplug When You’re on Vacation – Alexandra Samuel, Harvard Business Review (15 July 2014)

I’m with Samuel on how it’s less a matter of technology per se and more how we think of this stuff. But she also has specific examples and suggestions in her full piece.