If you’re part of a busy team at work, preparing for vacation can be a huge drag.
However, the rate at which workers today neglect to take time off is alarming. This is especially true as more and more people are battling burnout in the office.
Consider that over 55% of workers didn’t actually use their allotted PTO in 2018. That translates into over $65 billion in benefits gone to waste.
Listen: the stress of preparing for PTO shouldn’t overshadow your ability to recharge and enjoy a vacation. In the wake of COVID-19, remote workers need more help than ever when it comes to disconnecting and creating space for time off.
The 10 steps of preparing for PTO (without totally stressing out)
Rather than look at your upcoming PTO as the source of endless to-do list, we’ve broken down the process into ten simple steps.
Below are ten essential things to do before leaving for vacation (minus the freakout). We’ve also translated these steps into a template you can use to easily boil down the essential info for your coworkers here:
1. Decide whether or not you’re going to fully unplug
First things first: are you going to totally go off the grid or take some of your work with you on vacation?
There is no right answer here. Sure, the mental health benefits of an unplugged vacation are well-documented.
But depending on your role or even company policies, unplugging altogether might not be possible.
Given that a staggering 78% of people say that they’d only take a vacation if they still access their work, doing at least something while away from the office is the norm (for better or worse).
Either way, we recommend setting some ground rules for yourself to avoid constant being on-call while vacationing.
For example, try to make it clear to coworkers that you’ll only be available via email and will only respond to messages during the morning or evening hours. You could likewise say that you’ll use Slack to check-in but phone calls and emails are off-limits.
2. If possible, plan your PTO in advance
This might seem like a no-brainer, but giving yourself and your colleagues a heads up prior to PTO is a win-win.
How so? You win because you’re able to start working ahead, making adjustments to your meetings or campaigns. Meanwhile, your coworkers win as they’re able to manage their expectations and aren’t blindsided by a bunch of work falling into their laps. An easy way to communicate this might be during a team meeting a couple of weeks out, or with a calendar invite sent to those that need to know.
Ideally, preparing for a vacation shouldn’t mean scrambling and panicking last-minute. Remember that PTO impacts your coworkers’ schedules in addition to your own. Even a couple of days’ worth of notice will be much appreciated.
3. Delegate tasks to coworkers you trust
Don’t make the mistake of leaving a to-do list for your coworkers and calling it a day.
Instead, talk to them. Preferably in person and then followed with a confirmation email for the sake of accountability. Let them know what you need help with.
Actual conversations will uncover potential questions that your colleagues might have about what needs to be done. You should obviously hand off tasks to people that you trust, but also people who aren’t overwhelmed with work themselves.
As a side note, you should give your coworkers some credit! Although some of us might feel that we’re completely irreplaceable at work, the world’s (most likely) not going to end because you’re taking time off.
4. Make sure your team has access to the tools they need
Picture this: you’re a social media manager that’s left your company Twitter account in the hands of a junior employee.
But when it comes time to conduct your weekly Q&A, they’re locked out of all of your social accounts. No posts, no questions. Nothing.
This again speaks to the need to talk to your coworkers and make sure that they have the appropriate tools and permissions to pick up the slack. For example, Sprout allows you to grant specific access and permissions to team members without having to sift through a bunch of log-ins.
Much like having a social media approval process, it’s important that your coworkers test-drive any tools and double-check any passwords while you’re preparing for vacation versus after the fact.
5. Automate and queue up as much as you can beforehand
This tip is especially important for those working in social media but also applies to email or ad campaign managers as well.
For peace of mind, you should try to pre-schedule your campaigns while you’re preparing for PTO. Prepping messages in advance means you already have the final say on creatives and copy: all you need to do is pick a date and time for your campaigns to fire off.
If you’re a social media manager, you can use scheduling tools to queue up your posts based on your company’s calendar. Sprout’s platform also allows users to manage assets such as photos and captions, perfect for making quick edits or changes if necessary.
6. Put together a brief out of office autoresponder
Putting together an out of office autoresponder does double duty of managing people’s expectations while also letting them know exactly when you’ll be available again (or how else to get in touch).
If your inbox is off-limits during vacation, you should make it clear. The good news is that you can easily set up an out of office autoresponder in Gmail in a matter of minutes.
Keep in mind that out of office replies don’t need to be particularly lengthy or detailed. Here’s an example of an effective out of office message that gets straight to the point:
Thank you for your message.
I am out of the office [date] through [date] with no access to email. I will respond when I return on [date].
Short, sweet and to-the-point. See how that works?
Although you can definitely add some personality to your out of office messages, a blunt tone is perhaps best for getting the point across that you aren’t available.
7. Make your PTO visible to the rest of your company
Any tasks you can take off of your plate while preparing for vacation is a plus.
Case-in-point, you shouldn’t have to chase after people to let them know that you’re taking some time off. Beyond talking to people in-person and setting up an autoresponder, consider including your PTO as part of your company calendar.
If your company uses Slack, you can make your PTO public through the platform’s calendar feature.
Slack also allows you to create event reminders for your employees’ PTO. This is particularly useful for larger teams or instances where someone from another department (sales, HR) is trying to get in touch with you.
Making your PTO public isn’t just specific to Slack, by the way. The same logic applies to Google Calendar or any other tools your team uses to manage schedules.
8. Encourage your team to track their progress with project management tools
Let’s say you have trouble letting go at work and want to make sure your projects are running smoothly in your absence.
Hey, no problem. That’s exactly where project management tools like Trello can come in handy. With a Kanban board, you can clearly see who’s working on what and how a project is moving along.
This is useful not only for you if you’re looking to monitor your team’s progress while away, but also encouraging accountability for individuals working as a team.
Having this sort of visual progress report also makes your life much easier when you return from vacation as you can see what’s going on in your department at a glance.
9. Don’t sweat it if you don’t get everything done (both before and after you return)
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have everything “perfect” in terms of your vacation planning.
After all, emergencies happen and so do last-minute vacations. If you find yourself suddenly out of the office and unable to stick to your PTO plan, don’t panic.
And similarly, don’t force yourself to achieve “inbox zero” as soon as you get back. Simply following the tips above means that your workload should be more manageable, anyhow.
10. Make sure you leave your workspace spotless
Perhaps the last thing you do while preparing for a work vacation is to clean up your desk.
Simple enough, right? This isn’t just a courtesy for your coworkers, though, and it can benefit remote workers too. Cleaning is also beneficial to you mentally as it’s easier to hit the ground running with a sort of “blank slate” when you’re back to work after vacation.
If nothing else, cleaning is a way to step away from the phone or your inbox as you’re prepping to take time off.
And with that, we wrap up our guide!
What does preparing for vacation look like for you?
If you want to actually enjoy your vacations and ensure that your coworkers can easily pick up the reins while you’re gone, a bit of planning goes a long way.
By following the vacation checklist above, you can take your PTO with peace of mind. Download our template to put these steps into practice for your next vacation:
Being able to plan effectively is a key skill for social media managers. Speaking of which, make sure to check our guide to essential social media skills to see how else you can level up as a marketer.