Defeating the Dangerous Vacation Monster

by Annie

in defeating procrastination, strategery

Man on beach chair with laptop

In my previous post, I wrote about a strange struggle some of us experience when we go on vacation or change our location for any length of time.

It’s something like getting knocked off a bicycle, or taking a wrong turn. You “wake up” in a sense and wonder where you are, how you got there, why things are so hard … aren’t you supposed to be getting stuff done? Or having fun? Or … something?

Of course, when I had my personal experience with the vacation monster, I wasn’t really on vacation. I had just relocated temporarily to house-and-dog-sit for my brother. I was always planning to work during this time – in fact, I had a five day HTML & CSS class to teach during the last week.

And yet, just like Steph experienced after her long weekend, a strange shift in energy occurred as soon as I settled in to my new surroundings. I had everything I needed to do my work, but actually getting it all done was like pulling teeth.

It took about a month for Steph to feel like she was finally back on track, matching the pace and energy of her work before she left on her trip. We both learned some things during that month — things I’ve been working with myself during my shift in scenery – and things that will hopefully help you avoid the same traps.

I’ll confess right up front: I don’t have all the answers on this one. It’s an odd phenomenon, and I don’t think it happens to everyone.  Some folks experience it during a working vacation. Some experience it when they get back home. Some lucky ones get it both times.

But I’ve found out since that month with Steph that it does pop up more often in folks who are used to going it alone.

These are the strategies that helped both of us and a few others in between:

Anticipate the Issue and Lower Your Expectations

Knowing you’ve got a problem on your hands is half the battle – that’s true of many things, including vacation-induced lethargy.

Looking back on my own case, it might have been a wee bit impractical to expect myself to write 17 blog posts for clients, keep up with my own sites, and plan for a week-long class during my first week taking care of the dogs and the house. (Three dogs, mind you. THREE.)

So adjust your self-expectations accordingly. If you’re going to be sight-seeing or engaging in typical touristy vacation behaviors, you’re just not going to have time to do all the work you normally do in a week.

If you’re not working during a vacation, then anticipate some stumbling blocks when you get back. Realize you’re not going to be back in the swing of things on Day 1 – or maybe even Day 4. And that brings us to…

Do What You Can Before Departure

Whether you’re headed for a working vacation or a real vacation, you’re going to have to come back in for a landing at some point. That landing can be hard or soft, and the difference is often in what you were able to get done before you left.

Try to leave the surroundings clean and in good order — walking in to even mild clutter can demoralize you fast.

Clear the decks as much as possible, without making yourself nuts.

Make Sure You Know What’s Waiting For You

If you’re headed off for a mere change of scenery as I did — in other words, you’ll be working during your trip — make sure you have a complete inventory of what’s waiting for you when you get there.

Wherever you’re going, you’ll need certain things — wifi connection, for instance, and outlets and physical space to work in. Get a clear picture of what’s going to be there and available for your use, so that you can preplan solutions to specific gaps.

Take What You Need

In the same vein, if you’re expecting to get even a little work done during your off-time, make a thorough list of everything you’ll need to take with you to get that work done.

When you’re a couch warrior, working from  home, you quickly get used to having everything right at your fingertips. Sure you might have to hunt down a file or a notepad, but it’s there.

So take a few minutes and do a mental run-through of the tasks you’re planning to get done on your trip, making a physical list of all the necessary tools and what-not that you’ll need to get the job(s) done right.

Adhere to a Schedule As Much As Possible

One of the key things that threw both Steph and me off during our respective trips was that we had a sudden shift to someone else’s schedule. For Steph, it was her hostess. For me, it was the dogs. Both parties had certain expectations, ahem.

And those expectations clashed with our own schedules.

Also, once you’re out of your usual environs, you may find yourself slipping into a completely different rhythm. Some folks sleep later, some turn in earlier because they’re more tired than usual after a more-active-than-normal day.

To the extent that it’s possible, try to adhere to your usual schedule, whether you’re working during the trip or not. Keeping to your normal schedule will make re-entry a thousand times easier, and if you are working during your travels, it’ll help your brain get the message “the scenery changed, but we’re still working here.”

Build in No-Work Times

If you’re planning to get work done during the trip, make sure you carve out a few hours here and there — a whole day, if you’re able — and declare them work-free zones. Then adhere to it.

And while you’re in those work-free time periods …

Stay Physically Active to the Extent Possible

Don’t just plant your ass on the couch and watch Netflix. Get up and move, however you can. Even better, get out of the house or hotel or wherever you’re staying. Explore a little bit.

If there’s nothing really tempting you outside, then at least get up and be physically active. Get that heart rate up, and you’ll benefit from a flood of mood-enhancing serotonin and dopamine.

Keeping your brain and your body engaged and challenged will help keep it more flexible when it comes time to get back to work.

Handling Your Return to “Real Life”

Finally, when you get back home, keep those expectations managed – not only yours, but others’ as well.

Communicate clearly with those who’ve been waiting for your return. A quick “I got your email and just got back from vacation. Will reply further within 2 days when I’ve dug out from the inbox explosion” message takes less than 15 seconds to compose and send, but it’ll reassure clients and colleagues that you’re on top of things.

Take time to perform a careful triage of what’s waiting for you. Tackle the most urgent and important things first — even if it’s just an acknowledgment and a request for more time. Dig your way through the rest when you’re able.

Finally, take frequent breaks those first few days. Change your physical state — get up and jog in place or do jumping jacks, do a little yoga or some calisthenics. Drink more water. Watch the carb intake at lunch — it can boost serotonin, but it can also make you feel in desperate need of a nap.

But if you can swing a nap – by all means, do so. A short one (thirty minutes or so) can work wonders for your lagging energy levels.

Take That Vacation!

Don’t let the fear of a loss in productivity sway you away from a vacation opportunity. You need one, just as much as you need clients who pay and a dependable wifi signal.

Use these tips to control the vacation mindset so it doesn’t run away with your productivity, and you’ll be able to enjoy your time away even more.



Photo credit: Giorgio Montersino via photopin cc

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