Bar News - November 3, 2006
Work-Life Balance: The Vacation Test: Pass It If You Can
By: Betsy Black
When you hear the word vacation, what images come to mind? Is it the sounds of gulls and the surf, the smell of the ocean, the sensation of relaxing on a beach blanket on the sand? Is it the prospect of being in a remote wilderness area sitting in a canoe or hiking tall peaks? Is it visiting a religious retreat center in a quiet, rural location? Is it visiting a large city in the United States or abroad, eating different food, perhaps speaking another language, and expanding your knowledge of art and culture?
The word vacation derives from the Latin word vacatio meaning freedom. Interestingly, the second definition in Webster’s New Twentieth Century Unabridged Dictionary refers to the recess of judicial proceedings. The first definition refers to the act of making void or vacant, and the remaining definitions refer to taking a break or rest: “a period of rest and freedom from work.”
The benefits of vacation include rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation, pursuit of enjoyable activities, and connection with loved ones. Vacation is also good for you. The Work to Live Campaign reports that taking an annual vacation reduces the risk of heart attack by 50 percent for women and 30 percent for men.
Ironically, taking a vacation can require disciplining yourself to do it. And, just when you most need to take a break, it can be hardest to get away. The average worker in the United States works six weeks more than he or she did 20 years ago, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune. US workers also have the least amount of vacation in the industrialized world, averaging two weeks a year in contrast to the six weeks enjoyed by Europeans.
There are three aspects to consider regarding vacation – planning, preparing to leave and preparing for re-entry.
Leave Work at the Office
So, you’re convinced a vacation will revive and refresh you. What does “a period of rest and freedom from work” mean to you? Choose wisely for yourself and your family. Consider what you enjoy and what activities will give you the break you need.
Prepare to leave your work behind. Because we live in a culture that routinely uses the phrase
“24/7” and means it, you may need to consider how you will deal with the pile-up that will occur in your absence in the form of new work, continuance of current work, e-mail, and phone messages. Basically, there are three choices: seek assistance from other parties, deal with it upon your return, or deal with some of it yourself while you’re away.
You might be thinking, “I can’t be out of touch with my office or clients for a week!” Think about how you can take a break without compromising your professional responsibilities or business. If you are constantly telephoning the office or your clients, or e-mailing regarding business, are you reaping the benefits of a vacation? If you’ve brought along a bulging briefcase, a laptop computer, a cell phone or a BlackBerry, ask yourself—is this a vacation or am I working away from the office?
One of the great benefits of modern technology is the increased ease with which we can all communicate, but the price can be high. One way to think of it is that technology is a hammer, a tool that serves you, rather than a leash that confines you. E-mail and voice mail can be used to communicate your absence, your return and where someone can get help while you are away.
Prepare Yourself, Clients for Your Vacation
Here are some suggestions about how to prepare for a vacation:
Take some time to look at your work flow. What is likely to happen while you’re away? Who can handle it, preferably addressing the issue, or at least responding to it?
Communicate with clients and key contacts ahead of time, letting them know who can help them, when you’re leaving and will be back.
If you must work while you’re away, figure out how much, when and what you will do.
Returning to work after an absence can be overwhelming, so plan ahead. A few suggestions to consider:
- Get your work in order as much as you can before you leave.
- Know your top priorities for your return before you leave. For example, you may have a specific client to deal with immediately, and you expect lots of unknown issues will need to be addressed.
- Keep your calendar as open as possible for several days to give you time to re-enter.
- Plan some time to transition at home if you’ve been out of town.
- Schedule time upon your return to catch up and get organized before dealing with clients, telephone calls, etc. A few hours working alone at the office may be helpful.
My favorite memory of a recent two-and-a-half week vacation is this: I completely lost track of time and space for several hours while hiking along the southern coast of England as I enjoyed the company of my companions and the magnificent scenery. My brain felt free, just as the concept of vacation promises.
Taking a well-deserved break puts you in good company. Albert Einstein said he got some of his best ideas while sailing.
Taking a vacation is a luxury you cannot afford to live without. So, when and where are you going? Show me your pictures when you get back.
Betsy Black is an accredited executive and life coach and lawyer who’s left the practice of law. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s Time for a Vacation If...
You’ve accrued so much vacation time that you will never have time to use it in this lifetime...
You honestly don’t have time for a vacation...
You will simply be more behind if you stop working long enough to take a vacation...
Your spouse is threatening you with desertion...
You promised to take your children to Disney World next year and that was five years ago.