Friday, July 1, 2011

How To Take A Stress-Free Vacation

With the weather finally warming up, my mind starts turning to a summer vacation. I like to head to the Jersey Shore—not that Jersey Shore–for a week or two with my family. It's fun, relaxing and sometimes, admittedly stressful.

This, I'm sure, you can understand. Shutting down my computer for a week, breaking away from the office and putting most of my projects on hold—or allowing them to continue under the watch of my employees—is difficult. And I'm not one to micromanage.

Clearly, I'm not alone. According to American Express' research, only 46 percent of small business owners plan to take a vacation this summer. The remaining 54 percent are staying close to home (and the office) because of busy work schedules and a lack of extra money.

It's not too late to plan a trip, even if you can only squeeze in a short one., which does an annual vacation study, says that taking time out of the office has a lot of added benefits once you return: more creativity, higher quality output, less burnout.

"This is important for your overall well-being. You need to take time off from work in order to perform at your best level, and you deserve that time off, especially if you've been working even harder because things have been challenging over the last few years," says Allison Nawoj, a spokesperson for the company.

Here are tips for getting away without increasing your stress:

  • Plan in advance. Yes, I said it's not too late, and I meant it. But if you're just planning now, shoot for late August, not June. That will give you time to prep the office and your employees for your departure. "You can make sure you're covered and that your employees and co-workers are familiar with what you're working on," says Nawoj. Have as many meetings and briefings as you need to to feel comfortable with leaving things in their hands.
  • Delegate. This is extremely important when you're a business owner, but it's especially important when you want to leave the office behind for a bit. If you set up a system in which everything does not fall on your shoulders, it will be much easier to slip away. There's an additional bonus here, as well: Giving employees extra responsibilities shows that you trust them, which can boost moral. In fact, they might want to continue doing those jobs even after you return.
  • Spread the word. You need to personally tell clients that you'll be out of the office, and be very clear about exactly how reachable you're going to be. Hopefully, this will encourage them to save everything but urgent matters until you get back. But just in case, set up your out of office reply e-mail with details of who should be contacted in an emergency (again, this goes back to delegating) and record a similar message for your voicemail.
  • Stay in touch—sparingly. I know...this contradicts a lot of advice out there, that says you should completely unplug and enjoy your time away. But I know from experience that this sometimes isn't possible, and the way for me to have a stress-free vacation is to set a time to briefly check e-mail (and voicemail, if necessary) once a day. When I know that there aren't any fires at home, I can relax. If I haven't checked, I'm constantly concerned that something is wrong. But don't forget these two pieces of advice: First, just skim to make sure nothing needs your immediate attention. Second, if you can help it, don't tell clients about this system, because they may abuse it.
  • Minimize the damage. If you have an assistant, have he or she open your mail and even your e-mail while you're gone, flag what's important and delete the junk. You can do the same for voicemail. That way, the pile you come home to will already be sorted and you'll know what needs your attention. If you don't have an assistant, it's okay to ask another employee to take on this task, as long as his plate isn't already full.
  • Schedule time for catching up. When you get back, things are going to be a little frazzled. It's inevitable, so you should just accept it.  And by that, I mean block off the first two or three days after you return—no meetings, no conference calls, no lunches—so you can get through the pile on your desk, have employees bring you back up to speed, and ease back into the rhythms of the office.


Jean Chatzky is financial editor of NBC's "Today" show, a contributing editor at More magazine and author of "Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved." She recently launched the Jean Chatzky Score Builder in partnership with Check out her blog at and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Thanks to Jean Chatzky / Open Forum / American Express Company

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