The art of taking time off work—guilt-free

Does the thought of grabbing a few days—or a couple of weeks—for R&R stress you out? Here are ways to make sure taking your much-needed vacation doesn’t ruin your work life.

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Time away from the office is a wonderful thing. New sights, old friends and rejuvenation await.

Unfortunately, the shadow cast over any vacation is the dreaded heap of work and begrudging, overworked co-workers awaiting your return. Those are two big reasons why 55 percent of Americans don’t use their paid time off.

Vacations aren’t just about travel and catching up with friends and family or pet projects. They are genuinely necessary for resting the body and mind. You can’t work if work’s dragging you down in energy and brainpower.

If you’ve been nervous about going on that much-needed vacation, take heart. Here are four ways to do it while avoiding unnecessary stress once you’re back at your desk:

1. Talk it out. You work hard and deserve your time off, yet many people feel guilt for going on vacation. Consider that 59 percent of millennials feel bad about leaving work to be covered by colleagues. The key to leaving for a few days or weeks with peace of mind is open communication. Workplace surveys reveals that when employees and managers discuss the importance of vacation, employees are more likely to take time off and not feel guilty about it, which is good for everyone in the long run. If you’re a manager, talk to your employees about the importance of vacation; if you’re an employee, be honest with your manager and your co-workers about what you need.

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2. Plan ahead, and delegate. Professionals know what their job is and how to do it, but we also have to trust colleagues to help each other out where we can. Delegating work is a hugely important step to take before you leave on vacation, but what if you’re the only person who does what you do? MeetEdgar has a great solution to this—its in-house wiki, an internal tool explaining what each person does and how they do it, so that other employees can effectively cover for their chilling-out colleagues. Setting up an internal how-to mechanism like this makes everyone—those who are taking vacation and those who are sticking around—more relaxed in the long run.

3. Don’t be afraid of the big bad inbox. If fear of the email avalanche stops you from taking a proper vacation, use the auto-responder to get you off to a fresh start when you’re back. One neat approach: The managing director at Foundry Group set an away message that tells recipients exactly what will happen to their message while he’s away. Messages are archived automatically, and anything important has to be either sent to his assistant for delegation or re-sent to him again after he is back in the office. Not only does he get to come back to a light inbox, he can make a smooth, refreshing transition back into the rhythm of the workplace. It’s not just for executives either; some organizations have embraced this companywide, auto-deleting emails while you’re on vacation and alerting the sender, so that your inbox doesn’t overflow while you’re floating in the hotel pool.

4. Ease your way back in. You’ve completed a great vacation, but not everyone has to know you’re back just yet. For a smooth transition, come back one day earlier than your auto-responder indicates. It’s a great way to get a handle on whatever tasks need your attention right away, before an onslaught of people pounce on you, saying, “Can you do this? And how about this?” When choosing what to tackle first, be kind to yourself and do the small, interesting tasks to settle in.

Going away for a long or short vacation is manageable, no matter what your position or workload. It’s all about your approach and your organizational tactics so that you don’t defeat the whole point of taking time off.

A version of this post first appeared on Open Work, a nonprofit inspiring companies to continuously improve how work is done.

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