Preparing to be Out of the Office on Vacation

Follow this simple planning process to help you unplug from work while on vacation.
a beach

It’s a dirty secret of being a grownup with a professional job — if you go on vacation there is more work both before you leave and after you return. So to actually enjoy my vacation, and not undo the relaxation effects immediately upon my return, here is what I do, with a handy worksheet/checklist you can follow.


About two weeks before I leave for vacation, I spend a couple of hours looking ahead. Friday afternoon is often a good time for a block of uninterrupted time. For me, it is important to actually mark this time in advance on my calendar or it is likely not to happen as I get busy. I’m so nerdy I like to pre-schedule the time when I first schedule my vacation — that way I don’t forget about it.

Looking Ahead

During the time I set aside, I look at my calendar for the next five weeks. Yes, five weeks. The idea is to take stock of the time leading up to vacation, what will be happening in the office while I’m gone, and what I’ll face when I return. This makes for a smoother transition in and out of vacation.

Then I work backwards — looking at my calendar for the two weeks after I return from vacation.
  • Two weeks after vacation, what does my workweek look like? What kind of projects and meetings are on my plate at that time?
  • So what has to happen between now and then? And which of those things can happen before vacation, what has to happen while I’m gone, and what do I have to do immediately upon return?
  • Do I have any meetings the two days before I leave for vacation? If so, can they be moved to earlier in the week or after I return?
  • Do I have any meetings the two days after I return? If so, can they be moved to later in the week?
I use the space in the checklist to write down tasks that have to happen before I leave, meetings I will reschedule, and things I’ll want to follow up on immediately upon return.

The Week before I Leave

I schedule my out-of-office email notification to start sending notices at least 3 hours before the end of the day on the last day I’m in the office. I let my boss and any key personnel know that I’ll still be checking my email through the close of business that day. What I’m doing is creating a buffer in case any “fires” come in at the last minute when I’m about to leave. I do the same with my phone greeting.

When I Return

As I transition my brain from vacation to work mode, I find it helpful to follow a checklist when I return to the office.

My Re-Entry Tasks
  1.  Turn off my email triage folders rules.
  2.  Send emails to relevant parties asking if there is anything that is priority for my attention today.
  3.  Take a deep breath.
  4.  Triage my email, stopping every 10 minutes and when I complete a folder to stretch and take a deep breath.
  5.  Triage my phone messages, stopping every 5 messages to stretch and take a deep breath.
  6.  Review the checklist tasks that I wrote down before I left for vacation.
My husband would triage his phone messages before he triages his email messages. Play around.