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Dane Hillard
Dane Hillard

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Truly taking time off: A checklist

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I recently returned from nearly two weeks off from my typical day-to-day work. Part of this time was to attend a conference (PyCaribbean was amazing!) and the rest was a legitimate vacation. In the past I've had trouble really disconnecting and enjoying my time away, so this time I took deliberate measures to make sure I didn't fall into the same trap again.

Empty your brain

My time away coincided with a pretty busy time for my team, leading up to a deadline. This can be one of the more difficult times to step away. Paramount to your team's success and your ease of mind while you're gone is making sure everything you have in your head gets out. Disseminate everything you know or have in progress so that there's shared understanding. Ideally, pair with a coworker leading up to your vacation to transition anything that needs to keep rolling while you're gone.

Make agreements as a team about what's expected of you before you leave so that you can commit to getting those things done. It will not only help the team feel harmonized, but will give you a clear stopping point that will mentally let you switch to vacation mode.

Escape from Slack

Slack can be far and away the biggest source of distraction any time you're taking some time to yourself. This is especially true if you use it on your mobile devices. If you only do one thing after syncing up with your team, it should be this.

Slack statuses can be set until a specific date and time, or indefinitely. Set a status with an emoji indicating you're away/on vacation/unavailable, indicating when you'll be back if possible.

Setting a Slack status

In addition to a status, Slack lets you explicitly set yourself to "Away." This makes it more clear in the interface that you're not around, so it helps manage expectations!

I chose the nuclear option on this trip and signed myself out of Slack completely. In addition to removing the occasional distracting notification, it made me less likely to check Slack on impulse during down time.

Escape from email

In a similar vein to Slack, email is one of those things a lot of us check "just in case." There is rarely anything compelling in your inbox, at least nothing that can't wait until you're back. Just make sure there's a protocol for true emergencies, like a personal phone number or email. Ideally these are behind some sort of "BREAK IN CASE OF EMERGENCY" glass. Set an auto-reply message similar to your Slack status, but in addition include the names or contact information of people to contact in your stead. This helps folks get their questions and concerns addressed more quickly.

Escape from your calendar

Calendar reminders are another source of distraction, and one I only realized when I was preparing for this trip. Calendars are also handy for trip planning and organizing, so if there are still recurring work meetings floating around they can cause clutter.

Decline meetings that fall under the time you'll be gone. If they're recurring, make sure you only decline the instance instead of the series! Declining meetings reminds people you won't be attending, which helps them plan their agendas while you're out.

Escape from the pager

If you're on rotation for your team's application monitoring, make sure that you're not scheduled during the time you're out. Swap with someone if you are (and show your appreciation). If unattended alerts get escalated to everyone, you can consider removing yourself from the escalation policy temporarily as well. I didn't think of that beforehand, so I was still caught by a few escalated alerts.

It's about balance

I mentioned that in the past I've had a hard time disconnecting. Part of this is because I personally don't mind being mildly available even when I'm out. This is the balance I'm comfortable with. For others, the balance falls elsewhere, further toward some end of the spectrum. The tips above fall at the "unavailable" end of the spectrum, so you can draw on the bits and pieces you need to strike the right balance for yourself. Be healthy and be well!

What are your tips for unplugging and enjoying time away?

Top comments (2)

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Fab tips

easyaspython profile image
Dane Hillard

Thanks Ben!