Relaxation on Vacation? Yes, It Is Possible

It just works differently for different people! For example, I could never leave the office for a few days with an outgoing email that says! “I will be away from the office with little access to email, so I will get back to you on August 30.” That message actually fills me with anxiety! So, in addition to never actually informing the world of my plans to be away, here are my other ways to guarantee relaxation on vacation.

Prep your people No one can plan for every contingency (especially in PR), but try! Arm your co-workers with all the information they need to proceed without you while you are gone. In addition to giving everyone a status update on current client doings, you might also put someone in charge of checking your emails or calendar or voicemail (if you still get any voicemails!) I also make sure I’ve filed documents in easy-to-find files in case they need to be retrieved.

E but no T I will check my email at least twice a day and respond in a very timely manner. This checking in and checking off some requests etc. helps me stay focused on my trip and not on work. But, while I am happy to email you, I don’t want to talk to you (you, meaning anyone connected with work). That just breaks my vacay vibe altogether.

Be really well-planned I am all for spontaneity once I am in a city, but for certain elements of the trip, I want to be terribly buttoned-up. For example, if I learn of a great restaurant before I get to my destination I am all over Open Table (or its equivalent in other countries) reserving in advance. The same goes for a great museum exhibit or play, I will be sure to relax if I have some major “to-dos” done before I go. Caveat: there is nothing worse than being overplanned! Try to use a site such as Tripit to complete an online itinerary and keep it manageable.

Exercise! Walking around a city touring or swimming in a beautiful ocean does not, to me, constitute exercise. Whatever your regular exercise routine is, don your workout clothes and try to approximate it. In my case, I like to find the exact class I take at home in other cities! This is fun on so many levels and keeps me endorphin-filled and balanced for the duration.

Try to come back mid-day Sunday This is just ideal for me. Knowing that I will have a half a day or so to re-acclimate, open mail, do laundry etc. keeps me unconcerned during the trip and really ready to go back to work refreshed the next day.

Please share your “relaxation on vacation” tips – we can all use them!

Are Executive Vacations Bad PR?

As President Obama parks his sleek tour bus (dubbed “Bus Force One”) and travels to Martha’s Vineyard for a little R&R this week, the predictable criticism has followed. Some question whether our chief executive should be taking time off amidst stock market volatility, a “crisis” economy, and dropping poll numbers.

Chief among the President’s critics, of course, are the declared GOP candidates for his job. Newt Gingrich blasted Mr. Obama for taking vacation…as Gingrich himself headed off to Hawaii for a “fundraising” trip. A more credible objection was voiced by Washington Post columnist Colbert King, who argues that the President already enjoys two taxpayer-subsized residences and should spend his time off talking with hard-pressed citizens, not rubbing elbows with the elite in Martha’s Vineyard.

The Obama vacation ‘controversy’ is probably more about PR than reality. After all, the man’s completely accessible, and Congress doesn’t get anything done even when it is in session. But it raises an interesting question. Should chief executives take off during tough times? If your company’s been downgraded, your customers are losing confidence, and your recovery prospects uncertain, do you cancel the trip and stay home?

Optics matter. Leadership is often conveyed through images. A CEO in crisis shouldn’t be photographed in luxury surroundings, but neither should he be seen as deskbound, beleaguered, or overwhelmed. A strong leader needs to be seen as engaged, committed, but also independent. And as Rosabeth Kanter writes in “Should Leaders Vacation?,”  timing is a critical factor.

I don’t begrudge the president his break, partly because he deserves it, but mostly because the presidency follows him everywhere. But if he were my client – and the CEO of a company beset with public problems – I’d probably advise him to skip the Vineyard and unwind at Camp David for a working vacation.

How To Take A Vacation When On Vacation

Years ago, before the blackberry, I traveled to a spa in Mexico that had no cell service or phones in the rooms. Learning of a client company’s decision to restructure and fire my firm (as I crouched at a hallway pay phone, scrounging for quarters) didn’t leave me feeling exactly relaxed. And though the bad news had nothing to do with my choice of a remote getaway, it’s made me irrationally anxious about unplugging ever since. Launching my own business hasn’t helped, but truth to tell, it’s a personality thing. I’m a worrier.

Today, in the middle of a spring break vacation with the family, I’m taking a typical working holiday, attached to three wireless devices and serenaded by buzzes, pings, and ringtones. Guess what? It’s not so relaxing either. Studies show that the number of Americans taking working vacations doubled in the past decade – and that’s not even accounting for the economic downturn.

How, then, to hit a happy medium? To increase my vacation ROI – and maybe help others in my shoes – I put together a short list of tips for enjoying your holiday, if you’re a business owner, a consultant, or merely a control freak.

Time your vacations to minimize stress. Mini-breaks work best for start-up business owners, or inveterate worriers. I try to plan all my getaways during peak vacation seasons – Christmas week, July 4th, etc., when clients are most likely to be away as well.

Don’t be a slave to e-mail. Check it twice a day, and forward or respond to priority matters then, instead of scanning throughout the workday. This, of course, is a good rule in general, but I have trouble following it when in the office.

Consider office hours. If there’s a lot going on that requires your help, set aside two hours a day or whatever’s reasonable to have a telephone check-in with key staff or clients.

Invest in technology. For me, it’s just not worth it to depend on spotty WiFi or a slow connection. And, I’ve learned that redundancy when it comes to all technology – netbook batteries, rechargers, etc. – can save a world of frustration.

Do something. Sounds obvious, but I don’t always realize it. Planning enjoyable and immersive activities can be distracting and offer a natural schedule for work check-ins. If you’re just lolling by the pool, it’s  too easy to let thoughts drift to work and fire off unnecessary emails. If you must be productive, tackle a solo creative project.

Above all, don’t feel guilty. Remember the point of a vacation. It’s easier if you think of it in ROI terms. You’re supposed to come out of this relaxed, renewed, and refreshed, brimming with new ideas, or at least with a fresh perspective.