Every year before our annual family vacation to Hilton Head Island, I find myself questioning whether or not it’s even worth the hassle of trying to take time off. Getting simultaneously caught up and ahead is an epic race to the finish line that typically starts in March—a full two months before we even hit the road in May.
Pulling it all off feels like an incredible feat, and by the time I’m laid out on the beach or sitting by the pool, I’m pretty much completely and utterly exhausted. The very, very last thing I want to do is think about work, even for a moment, so I’ve added a few things to my process to help me completely shut down while out of the office.
For those of you who might struggle to disconnect on your own vacation, I thought I’d share my biggest tips, plus I’m using the opportunity as an excuse to share just a few more photos from our trip to Hilton Head earlier this month.
1. Plan Ahead
While I hate to admit it because it is an activity akin to getting a root canal (okay, maybe it’s not that bad), the first step toward total disconnection while on vacation is to work your butt off ahead of time. I build out my editorial calendar months in advance for every single week leading up to my vacation, and make sure to plan the 2-3 weeks beyond my scheduled trip, too. Having a plan in place for what I’ll need to shoot and write, both pre- and post-vacation, helps me feel in control and I don’t have to worry (particularly while I’m trying to relax on a beach towel) and means I won’t have to scramble when I get home.
I know not all of you are bloggers and managing an editorial calendar isn’t applicable to your situation, but this goes for any kind of job you have—whether you work in an office or even if you’re a stay-at-home parent. Planning any kind of work or household activities, projects, or deadlines ahead of time will stave off worry while you’re temporarily away from your to-do list.
2. Put Up An Auto Responder A Day In Advance
One of the things that I struggle with the most while out of town is email management. I’m the type of person who panics whenever I have unanswered emails sitting in my inbox, so I set an “Out Of Office” response to go live a day before I leave on my trip. I’ve found that an auto responder like this usually keeps my inbox on the quiet side because, after the first email, people realize I’m not around to help, so they don’t bother following up. Fewer follow-ups means fewer emails to respond to when I get home.
Putting up the auto responder the day before I leave the office also means that I’m able to respond to any potentially time-sensative emails before I officially hit the road. It’s my built-in buffer, so to speak.
3. Create A Hidden Email Folder
This may be taking things further than you need them to go, but since I am the type of person who panics over unanswered emails, I tried something new this year: setting up a special “Deal With After Vacay” folder in my Gmail inbox. No really—that was the exact label I used! Being a business owner, I can’t completely ignore my inbox, no matter how much I’d like to. So instead I would go through my emails before bed each night deleting the fluff and syphoning the stuff that I’d need to (you guessed it!) ‘deal with after vacay’ over to that hidden folder in order to get back down to inbox zero.
When I got home, I moved all of those filtered emails back over to my inbox and answered them as needed, but for those days when I was still out of the office, my email inbox stayed clean as a whistle—just the way I like it.
4. Take A Vacation From Social Media
Emails, of course, aren’t the only type of digital distraction we battle while out of the office. The urge to check in on social media also wreaks havoc on our time away. If you’re addicted to your favorite feeds, too, then maybe your vacation is also a good opportunity to take a leave of absence from scrolling social media.
I actually find that this is one of the easiest things for me to disconnect from while on a trip. Getting some separation from home and work and the general mundane duties of being an adult helps me get perspective on the fact that social media isn’t all that necessary for life. While down in Hilton Head earlier this month, I would find myself reaching for my phone and clicking into Instagram out of habit only to put my phone right back down again. More often than not, I’d be sitting on the back porch of our rented beach house watching boats drift by, and I’d think to myself, “Why on earth would I want to do anything but look at this beautiful view?”
I think I personally use social media as an escape on a normal day, so while on vacation there’s just no need to bother with checking it. I’m already on an escape—the real life kind! Maybe you should give this trick a try, too.
Since most of us in this day and age tend to fall prey to the idea that “busy is best,” vacations are pretty darn tough to enjoy. Whether you’ve got coworkers breathing down your neck from afar, looming projects weighing you down, or you’re being bombarded by emails, notifications, and text messages, it’s almost impossible to truly disconnect. My hope is that these tips will help make the process a little bit easier for you, and that you can shut down more than you have in the past—without sacrificing your productivity and organization.
Honestly, this last trip to Hilton Head was the first time in ages that I felt like I was mentally present during my vacation, and it was worth all the rushing and pre-planning beforehand. Now to start getting ready for next May…