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Take a look at any number of articles or posts about successful leaders, and you will likely find a common idea shared amongst many of them. Whether you call it rejuvenating occasionally, recharging the batteries, striking a work/life balance, or some other description, they all speak to the idea of getting away from the office for a spell.

So why is it so hard to heed the advice of these successful leaders when it comes to our own calendavacayrs and taking a vacation? Why is it so many Product Management leaders can’t seem to let go of the seemingly endless tasks even for a short spell? Why are we as Product Management leaders so willing to forgo any time away from the office at the expense of potentially hitting the proverbial wall?

I wish I had an easy answer, I don’t.  But one thing I can assure you of is the countless meetings don’t cease … the to-do list is never done … and the demands from others in the organization won’t diminish.  So here are 5 ways I’ve dealt with this paradox over the years:

1. Communicate your time away well in advance. Get the necessary approvals from management where needed … remind everyone during staff meetings or status updates … share with your extended teammates.  The key point here is people will be less inclined to interrupt your time off if they are aware of it in advance.

2. Proactively reschedule meetings to another date/time.  Be proactive in either rescheduling meetings you own and/or proposing alternative dates/times for those you don’t. Again, people appreciate knowing ahead of time where conflicts may exist, and certainly will appreciate you taking the initiative to resolve the conflict.

3. Set expectations with the broader team.  Sometimes you may be accessible during time off, other times you may not …  it is up to you to set expectations accordingly.  If you can be accessible my recommendation would be to limit the number of people who can reach you, otherwise people will take advantage of it.  If you are not accessible, let people know ahead of time and reinforce the message with out of office notifications identifying others who can assist in your absence.

4. Build in some time on re-entry. Make no mistake about it, if you have indeed been able to check out during your vacation, re-entry will be tough. A mountain of email will await you, likely with meeting requests immediately upon your return and/or action items requiring immediate attention. I’ve always hated walking back in and getting overwhelmed or blindsided by everything, so here are a few tactics that work for me:

  • For international vacations where staying connected is difficult, I’ve found carving out a few hours on the plane ride home useful in getting caught up.  And yes, this is a case where expensing the WiFi charge would likely be acceptable to your boss.
  • For domestic vacations, pick some dedicated time to stay abreast of things.  For example, we just returned from our annual beach vacation where my family sleeps in until late morning.  Those early hours in the morning before anyone is up afford a bit of time check in.
  • With either scenario, use the time primarily to ensure there are no immediate actions necessary through your chain of command, to weed out garbage emails, accept meeting invitations (so you are aware), and delete emails not requiring your attention (e.g. – those endless CCs where you wonder why was I even copied?).  How many emails you actually respond to is up to you, but the more your respond (especially in scenario 2) the more you will be pulled in because you are setting the expectation you are now available.

5. Remember what’s important. Key to this whole conversation is the point successful leaders tout time away for a reason.  There are many rationales for this, and I’d encourage you to explore the findings on your own. From my own perspective, I was rereading a few things in preparation for this post, and came across these 3 points I believe fit well here:

  • You make time for the things that are important to you
  • I can find another job much easier than I can find another family
  • The health of your team/organization depends on your own health

And as a final thought, sometimes the environment we find ourselves in can only be described as “turbulent waters”. I find myself in the midst of those turbulent waters now, and it would have been easy to forgo my vacation because of the swirling and chaos.  In fact, I almost did.

But through conversations with my chain of command I was encouraged to take the time off and spend time with my family.  If you have a leader in your chain of command who espouses the thoughts in this post, embrace it as something special, because not all leaders do.