I’ve taken vacations and worried about my clients, tasks and projects. I’ve also had co-workers leave on vacation and wished I had a go-to plan that would set me up for success on their project work in their absence. Having a strategy that prepares me and my teams for co-worker outages is a huge stress reliever.
I originally shared these 7 tips in a lightning talk at WordCamp Seattle 2017, a conference for WordPress users, and realized that this topic could potentially have a much larger audience. I think ultrarunners in particular could benefit from these tips because on race day, nothing else should have your full attention than getting to the starting line healthy, well-rested and with the smallest amount of stress as possible.
Each one of the methods I’m going to show you has a level: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. I’ve also included a duration for each task on my slides, or how far in advance you’ll need to start the task in order for it to work optimally.
#1 Out of Office message
Write your automatic out of office (OOO) email reply.
Below is an example of an OOO message:
Thanks for your message. I will be out of the office starting [starting date] through [end date].
If you need immediate assistance, please contact [your supervisor’s name] at [your supervisor’s email address]. Otherwise I will respond to your emails as soon as possible upon my return.
Other helpful tips include removing your work email and push notifications from your phone.
Bonus points for changing your voicemail message.
#2 Notify Your Clients
Start notifying your clients and your co-workers that you are going on vacation.
Put it in writing:
- Include it in a meeting agenda
- Add your dates to a shared team calendar
- Add it to your email signature
Give your client and team members ample time to get comfortable with the idea that you will be unavailable. The more time they have, the more questions they can send you before you go, and the fewer they will be inclined to fire off at you while you are on vacation.
We’re all familiar with the experience of coming back from vacation and hearing the painful stories of how your team members couldn’t complete one of your tasks or how a critical job required multiple team members and far too much time to accomplish. Don’t let your tasks be abandoned due to a resource suck. The next method will help overcome that hurdle.
#3 Train a Co-worker
You’re going to need to make a list of everything that you do. Every day. For each client.
It sounds painful, but really it’s not.
In fact, it’s going to be incredibly easy. It’s the kind of work that you can do while listening to Spotify, NPR or whatever it is you listen to.
Once you’ve got your list of tasks, the next step is giving that documentation to your co-worker. Task them with doing your work for one week, while you are still in the office. If they run into problems you can improve your documentation, or at the very least, you can show them how to find what they couldn’t and help them complete the task.
Your co-worker at the very least should know:
- What tasks are associated with each client
- The nature of the client’s business
- What’s the client’s objective?
- Is it putting heads in beds? Brand awareness? They are going to want to know that they aren’t making suggestions that contradict what you’ve set in place
- What’s the client’s objective?
- The name, position and contact information of the people they will be communicating with
- Where to find the resources to do the work
- Give them access to your CRM, create a WordPress login account for them, etc.
Training a co-worker to fill in for you means they also need to be ready to sit in for you during the weekly calls and regularly scheduled internal team meeting. Bring your designated replacement into a regularly scheduled client call a week before you leave. This is critical if the client isn’t familiar or has had little to no exposure to this particular staff member.
Having your co-worker sit in on a meeting prior to your departure is also a good idea because it’s a clear and positive demonstration of respect for the client. You are setting your co-worker up for success and building good will with the client, since it shows that this new person made time for them and was accommodating to the client’s needs, despite their own busy work schedule.
If one co-worker isn’t enough, train two. Remember, you will be returning the favor at some point.
#4 Create a Return to Work to-do list
Not all your tasks will need to be delivered to the client while you are on vacation. Instead of fretting over them while you are away, write yourself a return to work to-do list.
Write down the list of tasks. Add deadlines. Mark them in some way that shows which are the priorities. Include any other notes that you think your future self would appreciate.
Now you don’t have to stress, or ruminate, about all the tasks that you need to do when you get back. Repeatedly thinking of a long list of tasks doesn’t help them get done any faster and pulls you out of vacation-mode. It’s incredible how the simple act of writing things down can free your mind to think of other, more enjoyable things, while you are on vacation.
Bonus points if you make this list accessible in various devices. Why? Because now if you think of ‘one more thing’ that you want to add to the list, you can. You can write it down. Get it off your mind. And go on with your vacation.
#5 Look Into the Future
Depending on the industry that you work in, here are things that aren’t going to happen when you are OOO:
- Launching a website
- Introducing a new product into the market
- Hiring a new employee
- Black Friday sales
- CyberMonday sales
For instance, if you know that every year you need to ramp up your seasonal staff in preparation for Q4 (holiday shopping!), you wouldn’t plan to be away during the time it takes to hire and train new staff.
Likewise, before you sign a contract with hard deadlines that include rewards for completion dates ahead of schedules and penalties for late deliverables – check your vacation status. Better yet, also review your team’s availability and any of the freelancers you work with to see when they will be OOO.
#6 Teach the client to be self-sufficient
Help grow your relationship with your client by teaching them to be self-reliant for particular tasks.
I can hear you thinking, “The more my clients can accomplish without me, the fewer hours I get, which means I make less money. How is that a good thing?”
You and I both know that there are a lot of tasks you perform for clients that they could also do. Find several of these low-hanging fruit tasks and talk to your client about having them learn how to perform them.
If there ever was a time you wanted to hand something off to a client to do, now is the moment to take advantage of their openness to try. But it does require a client that is willing to learn. And not everyone will jump at the opportunity.
For example, you can show a client how to generate a report by shooting them a 2 minute screenshare video that walks them through the process. Or follow some of the steps covered in the ‘train your co-worker’ method described earlier.
By empowering your clients, you strengthen your relationship. You are giving them a skill they didn’t have before, making them more valuable to their employer. You also position yourself as a trusted advisor. As an added bonus, by removing these simple tasks from your plate, you free yourself up to concentrate on the more complex and interesting tasks associated with the work you perform for this client. It’s a win-win.
#7 Give permission to call
Tell your team that they can call or text or email you when it is an emergency.
Help them help you know when it’s an emergency. One way to do this would be to give them specific instructions, i.e., put the words HELP! in the subject line or at the start of the text message.
If it truly is an emergency, it’s better to be contacted and help your team than be blissfully ignorant during your vacation, only to come back to a nightmare client or project when you step back into the office.
Get Ready To Dial-In To Your Race Day
You only get a few days of vacation each year, and if you’re using some of those precious days to compete in an ultramarathon, these steps should help you mentally check-out of the office and dial-in to your race.
I highly recommend adding these steps to your training plan and as reminders on your work calendar. I’ve also made a checklist of the items mentioned above as a downloadable PDF.