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By Kenadi Silcox
February 17, 2020
Calum Heath for Money

You’ve put your vacation days on the company calendar, set an “out of office” email with clear instructions on who to contact while you’re gone, but the requests keep trickling in.

Or maybe you’re battling a fever—or a cold so bad you’re breathing exclusively through your mouth—but you can’t stop thinking about that report due next week.

Sure, you’ve already called out of work, but what’s the harm in firing up your laptop for an hour — or two?

Technology keeps us connected — so much so, that it can blur the line between “work life” and everything else. But your paid time off is yours, and you have a right to use it.

“If you’re present in your work, you deserve to be present in your time off,” says Brenda Abdilla, a professional leadership coach.

Even if you absolutely love your job, you need to set boundaries. Here’s how to do it.

Set a precedent

Get comfortable with not being accessible 24/7 by setting reasonable—but firm—limits when you’re NOT on vacation.

Like it or not, if you’re known for staying at work way later than everyone else, you’re probably sending signals about the boundaries you (don’t) have.

Make your expectations clear. If a coworker reaches out at 10 p.m. with something other than an absolute emergency, you can probably punt it to tomorrow. You can send back a quick “Thanks for sending this over! I will take a closer look tomorrow morning when I’m back in the office.” Or you can ignore it.

There are tons of apps that can help if you untether from your work devices — Like Freedom, which blocks apps and sites that suck up your time. If you’d rather gamify ignoring work, the Flora app allows you to plant virtual “seeds” that grow as you ignore your phone. If you spend too much time on it, the seeds die. Morbid, but surprisingly effective.

Reframe ‘relaxation’

Tonya Dalton, a productivity expert and author of “The Joy of Missing Out” says we need to flip the script on how we view vacations.

“Periods of rest aren’t rewards for great work, but a requirement for great work to happen,” she says.

If you finished a marathon in first place, only to discover you had to instantly begin running ANOTHER marathon upon crossing the finish line, you would probably collapse before reaching the halfway point. The same goes for work projects. If you keep setting and meeting bigger goals without any time to breathe in between, you’ll burn out. Hard.

“You can’t let burnout just build up and up, or you’ll end up going MIA mid-project,” Abdilla says. “So make time off an intellectual decision.”

Get your ducks in a row

If you know you’re going to be out of office, the best thing to do is plan ahead.

Set deadlines several days in advance of your time off (not THE DAY before). And don’t be afraid to check in with coworkers and clients ahead of time to let them know where they can direct their questions while you’re away.

“By mapping out vacation days ahead of time, you can fully disconnect and feel more present in the moment,” Dalton says.

Trust your team

If you are a good worker who meets deadlines and boosts morale, your contributions are incredibly valuable. But chances are, you’re not the only person in the world (or even on your team) who knows how to do your job.

Unconvinced? try talking to your boss about making accountability a part of company policy.

“Have a buddy system set up where two team members are trained on each other’s critical tasks,” says Lori Kennedy, a business consultant for holistic health companies. “Then the person leaving won’t feel anxious about critical jobs not getting done.”

You might have zero control over who takes over on your days off, but giving teammates a rundown of what you do all day means it will get taken care of — and you won’t have to put out fires from a beach chair.

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