How to Master the "Workcation"

A laptop sits on a wicker tray with a cup of tea on a white sheet.

Why is time management among the hardest skills to master?

Whether you have a very set work schedule or a flexible job, it’s among the most difficult balancing acts. Add a vacation to the mix and it can overtake the excitement or relaxation of a trip. Many of us have come to embrace the “workcation,” a mix of leisure and labor.

A  2017 Glassdoor survey found that two-thirds of employees report working while on vacation. 14 percent of respondents said a family member has complained about their working on vacation. Nearly 30 percent said they’ve been contacted by either a co-worker or boss while on vacation.

If you can’t truly “get away” on your getaway, it’s better to be realistic about how you’ll balance work and free time. Otherwise, if you are in denial, you’ll end up cranky and rushed trying to fit work in during moments of downtime.

Incorporating part of your work routine to your vacation relaxation can mean you’re not as behind when you return to your desk and you can even find a little motivation working from a beautiful or comfortable location. Ready to head out on your next trip? Here is how to perfect the art of the “workcation”.

Preparing for your trip

On top of remembering to pack the right shoes, enough bathing suits, and a good beach read, you’ll want to make sure you’re preparing for the work part of your trip too. Organizing for a workcation can require a little extra preparation since you can’t pack your entire office, but you’ll need a few critical tools in order to be productive.

Step 1: Only pack the essentials. I know that I can achieve most anything with my laptop, notebook, and planner. I can easily fit those in my carry-on or keep them organized on a road trip. Some other essentials that are easy to forget you’ll definitely need: 

  • Chargers (phone, tablet, and laptop) 
  • Headphones 
  • A few extra batteries (it never fails I need a battery while traveling, so keep a few tucked in a work pouch along with writing utensils)
  • Any necessary cords or memory cards

Pre-plan the projects you’re going to work on while away. That way you can make sure you’re only taking the materials you need. You won’t need all of your notes, just a few of them. This is also a good way to keep from feeling overwhelmed by tasks while you’re away; just focus on what needs to get done, and leave the rest for when you get back.

Step 2: Make a list of musts. What is the bare minimum you need to get done while away from your desk? Is it just some emails or do you need to do some heavy lifting on a project? Be realistic about what you’re capable of; this is a vacation after all. If you plan on working a couple of hours each day you’re away, assume you’ll probably only complete a slice of what you’d usually get done in a regular day.

That’s not to say they won’t be productive hours, there will just be fewer of them.

Step 3: Don’t forget reminders/auto-responders. Even if you’re planning to return emails, it’s smart to schedule a return email note that alerts people needing to get in touch with you that you’ll only be periodically checking email while you’re away.

Step 4: Check out where you’ll have wifi and where some good work spots are. I always do a little research of the best coffee shops I want to hit. I’ll squeeze in a few hours in the morning and get a ‘gram-worthy non-fat latte. If your location is more remote, check the connectivity situation. There is nothing worse than being marooned when you were expecting to do a little work.

Embracing a change of scenery 

Switching up your environment can be really stimulating and motivating, probably because there is an element of exploration. This can make getting work done on vacation a little more fun than being stuck in your office.

Finding a new coffee shop or a gorgeous historic library is a good way to incorporate both goals of your trip. While being new, they’re also familiar work places, so you won’t feel super out of place or distracted when you have to bite the bullet and hammer out some proposals.

Be careful not to overwork yourself while trying to keep your hustle up on vacation. Working from a new spot can spark new ideas and inspire you to really delve into more work. Resist the urge to overexert yourself. Make lots of notes if you are having big ideas, but don’t forget your primary job is to be on vacation; just do the work that needs to be done right now.

Saving your big thoughts or plans for later will give you something to look forward to when you return to your normal daily work routine. Plus, you’ll be able to give them more focus and the full resources of your work environment.

Avoid prolonging that feeling of being burnt out because you took on too much while you were supposed to be away. You’ll feel like a vacation actually did was an investment.

Similarly, take note of how turning “off” for a bit is helpful to your work.

Try setting strict “no work” hours for dinner with family or friends, or make it a point to take a beach stroll with your phone on silent. Powering down is part of the reason why you’ve decided to take a vacation in the first place, and if that’s not convincing enough, science says you’ll be better for closing all those tabs for a while.

  • You’ll be more productive: MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Bob Pozen, author of the bestselling book “Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours” says working in shorter periods of time is good for productivity. Consider your vacation work session a sprint, and the rest of the time should be spent on you. 
  • Your health will be better: Stress and chronic illness are linked, so taking time to reduce your stress will improve your health.
  • Speaking of stress: 68 percent of people say they’re feeling refreshed when they return from a vacation, according to a study by the American Psychological Association. Even if you can’t unwind the whole time, making space for relaxation will benefit your physical and mental health.

At the end of the day, remember why you planned this trip and what you’re hoping to get out of it. Vacations can do some serious repair work if you’re feeling burned out, and while it can be hard to escape from the work grind, a workcation is the ultimate reminder of a healthy work-life balance.

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