The Way We Work
November 30, 2011 by Amy Sept

Whatever your plans are for the next month, chances are you will need to schedule them around some vacation time – whether your own or someone else’s.

If you are expecting to take a break, what can you do now to make your time away from work – and your return – as stress-free as possible? Here are five helpful strategies.

1. Review your deadlines and milestones

Even if you plan to work all month, your clients may not. Review your current projects as well as upcoming deadlines and milestones. If you have any deadlines scheduled for later in December, consider moving them up or bumping them to January. Make sure to check with your clients about their own timelines!

Why does this matter? You deserve a break and so do your clients. Avoid the frustration of last-minute changes – or worse, missed deadlines – by negotiating any adjustments now.

2. Connect with people you have worked with – and say “thank you”

Even if you do not currently have any ongoing projects with certain colleagues, this is a great opportunity to connect with people you have worked with in the past – not just clients but also co-workers and sub-contractors. Let them know whether you are available over the holidays and thank them for their business or support over the past year.

Why does this matter? It is easy to fall out of touch with people you have enjoyed working with once a project wraps up. This is a great opportunity to send a gentle reminder that you are still here and in business – but more importantly, a lot of other people will not bother. That makes this an easy activity that can help you stand out, and also allows you to genuinely thank people who have helped you succeed.

3. Set an out-of-office message

Even with good planning and communication, you will likely still get emails while you are on vacation. Did you know that a lot of email programs allow you to create an out-of-office autoreply?

For example, if you use Gmail:

  • Find “Mail Settings” under the “Options” icon in the upper-right corner.
  • On the “General” tab, near the bottom of the page, you will find a section called “Out of Office Autoreply.”
  • Set the start and end dates for your autoreply and write a message that tells people you are on vacation, as well as when they might expect to receive a response.
  • Make sure you click “Save Changes” at the bottom of the page!

If you are concerned about an ongoing interview on oDesk, here is a tip from the community about adjusting your profile.

Why does this matter? If someone tries to contact you during your time off, this automatic message will let them know that you are away – not simply ignoring them – and makes a commitment that you will be in touch upon your return.

4. Make a to-do list for your first week back at work

Before you leave for your time off, make a list of the priorities you need to tackle when you get back. You may want to put this list together over a few days, just to make sure you don’t miss anything as you are wrapping up. (Hint: One of the top items on your list should be replying to any emails you missed while you were away!)

Why does this matter? Whether you plan to take a few days off or a few weeks, you should give your brain a chance to think about other things – like your family and friends. Knowing that you have already planned what you need to do when you get back will help you leave work behind and focus on having fun.

5. Actually take a break

Many of us are so wired with smartphones, laptops and tablets that checking in on work is literally just as easy as playing a round of Angry Birds. But if you cannot disconnect yourself from work, you will not enjoy much of a break – and you will rob yourself of an opportunity to relax and recharge.

(If you absolutely must check in while you are away, our Holiday How-To For Freelancers offers some great tips.)

Why does this matter? Not only do you deserve a break, you need one! If your life usually moves at a hectic pace, slowing down will give your mind and body a chance to recover so you will be ready to charge ahead in the new year. If you need more proof, read this post about why you need weekends: It is good for you and your business.

What tasks do you do before you take time off? Please share your advice in the comments section!

Amy Sept

Managing Editor

As Managing Editor of the oDesk blog, Amy Sept has more than a decade of communications experience and a passion for helping nonprofits and small businesses succeed. She is an experienced freelancer and the founder of Nimbyist Communications, a marketing and public relations business specializing in nonprofit promotions. She has previously studied both journalism and music, and before launching Nimbyist was manager of communications for… read more