Not working on holiday - a 6 step guide

Not working on holiday – a 6 step guide

If you’re sat round the pool on holiday, then one in six people will be answering work emails. If that’s you then you really need to read this six step guide to not working on holiday.

Holidays are meant to give us space and distance from our everyday lives. Yet many of us find ourselves even more anxious than ever – even to the extent of getting up at four o’clock in the morning to answer emails during work hours at home. If we want to come back from holiday feeling rested and refreshed that kind of behaviour isn’t going to help at all. So how do we learn to start not working on holiday and actually start to get those benefits?


Remember that holidays are vital and necessary. Not just for the children, not just for your partner, but for you. Not taking holidays, or working through them, will make you less productive, not more. Working through holidays will make you more stressed, much more than any anxiety you relieve about being ‘contactable’.

Don’t feel guilty about taking a proper holiday from work. If you’re employed, and you work during your holiday, your effectively asking work for an 11% pay cut. If you’re self-employed then not taking or working through your holiday is actively damaging your sustainability and long-term success.

Prepare yourself before you go

If you have a work calendar think about putting some reminder in about “10 days before holiday”, “8 days before holiday”, etc. Not only do you get to enjoy your holiday getting closer, you’ll also make sure that you don’t run out of time before you go. That way you can make sure that what needs bringing up to date gets done.

Prepare colleagues before you go

If you have people who work for you then make sure that you delegate not just work but authority to them while you’re away. That means having a proper handover of work as well. Make sure that the handover is included in your planned tasks before you go, and not just a rushed through conversation or late-night email.

Remember that the sign of a good manager is a well-run team when they’re not there. Ignorance or indecision while you’re away don’t make you indispensable – they make you a poor leader.

Prepare clients before you go

Think about mentioning your holiday to clients so that they’re prepared for it. If you’ll be away for a regular monthly task or meeting then mention during the last one who’ll be doing that in your absence. Mention it at the end of emails, and consider a pre-holiday e-mail signature with the details in.

When you do come to those conversations, or your ‘proper’ Out Of Office message, don’t apologise for being away. Remember, holidays aren’t anything to feel guilt about.

Prepare for your return

One reason many people work during their holidays is because of the worry about coming back to a backlog of emails and work. The value of not working on holiday will be completely lost if a week after we’re back it feels like we’ve never been away. One option is to have the people who you delegated the work to give you an update when you get back. Whether that’s written or in a conversation it’s a great way to get back up to speed.

If your worry is about emails, and coming back to an overflowing in-box, then why not give access to someone else while you’re away? Even if you don’t want them to answer on your behalf they can delete all of the ones you won’t need to see, from lost car keys to “Me as well” reply-all responses that add nothing.

Actively enjoy being away

A holiday isn’t just ‘not working’. It’s about the benefits of free time, and of actively being ‘non-productive’. Take the time to enjoy doing what you want to do – whether that’s watching the world go by from a café table or throwing yourself off of a bridge on some elastic.

Whether you’re getting lost in a good book, or the winding streets of an old town, learn to recapture the joy of not being ‘contactable’ and of not working on holiday. Lots of people find it so enjoyable they do it every year…

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