- Wise Words -
Checking Out. A Checklist
by fergus mellon
Oh boy, another checklist. We will soon need a checklist just to make sure that we are managing our checklists: a checklist, for a checklist. Then there will be columns on checklist overload and how to deal with them, but that will be for another day. The goal of this column to set out a pre-vacation checklist to make sure that as an Early Stage Professional you are well equipped to get your time out of the office. Getting time out of the office that causes minimal disruption for you, your team and your company.
As we head into Summer Season our minds understandably turn to what to do with our allotted amount of time off from the office. This is not going to be a column talking about the benefits of vacation (a web search will find 20,000,000 or so results on this topic), instead it is written assuming that you want to take vacation, but to do it in a way that keeps you in good professional standing.
What’s your allowance? How long do you want to take?
Depending on where in the world you are, you will have between 2 weeks (US) and seven weeks (France) with the UK somewhere in between at about 5 weeks. It is unlikely you will be able to take all of it in one go, especially if you are in Europe; five to seven weeks would prove very disruptive to your company. Before making plans for that great three-week adventure in The Andes, make sure that you have the allowance to go with your plans. If you have a two-week vacation allowance and it’s common to take one week at a time, then plan for that week off and organize what you want to do within the limits you are dealing with.
When are the work peak-periods?
One reason why someone taking time out of work can get a bad reputation is that they do it at a peak-period for the business and so leave the rest of the team scrambling. To ensure that you can relax when you are out as well as receive a warm welcome on your return understand when the peak periods are for your business and plan around them. If you work in tax, you will likely need to avoid Jan through April in the US as this is when clients will be at their most demanding.
If this is the case, a good plan would be to take time off either a little before of after the peak filing period so that you are either in a good mental position to deal with the stressful time ahead, or alternatively you have something to look forward to during times when you will be stressed at the office.
Book the time off with plenty of notice.
Most companies require their employees to book the time off in some system or another and gain approval. Assuming you are taking a reasonable amount of time out for your company’s culture and it is not at a peak time, this should be pretty simple.
Before putting your vacation through the company’s approval system, make a verbal request and then after discussing it, get it approved. There’s no need to feel awkward, justify it or anything like that but instead, making the request in person will come across as more mature and also help you answer any questions on coverage plan early on. Who knows, when you tell your manager of your vacation plans, they may even have been where you are heading and have some good hotel or restaurant recommendations ahead of you making your booking!
Prep & Transition
What are the expectations while you are out?
Just five business days out of the office for a summer vacation can seem like very little. The truth is it is, but there’s not much we can do about that! As it is such a short period of time you may feel that it would be unfair to do any work over the period out of the office and while I have a great deal of sympathy with that view, that may simply not be possible.
While it may seem nice to unwind and switch off, depending on the size of the company and the importance of your role, you may need to check-in throughout your vacation. Instead of hating the idea of checking email, ask your manager if they are ok with you taking a complete break from the office or if they would like you to check it once per day in the event your team need some help.
If your manager says taking “a work detox” is fine, count yourself as lucky. Some companies prefer employees to do a full transition of work so that nothing gets dropped while an employee is out. If you are in a less lucky position (let’s just say normal), be prepared for a request to check-in once a day. The one bright side of doing a daily check-in is that you won’t come back to an inbox that needs hours of attention on your return.
Coverage Plan & Socializing Time OOTO.
Ok, so you deserve your vacation and you may wonder why as you don’t get paid a million dollars a year, you are now so valuable. That said get over it! You are valuable and are part of a team so be open to preparing everyone as best as you can so that you can have as restful a vacation as possible. If all your other team members are prepared for the work they need to do in your absence then this will help you enjoy your time out as well as make your last few days in the office less panicked. If you socialize your vacation early you will minimize the chances of being asked in your last few days in the office to “just finish that project" before you leave, saving you a stressful dash to the exit.
Handover & Transition
In your Checking Out plan, make sure to add in time to do handovers for any projects that are underway. If you work with other teams, a good idea is to do a handover meeting with them and have the colleague who is filling in for you present at that meeting. This will ensure that there will be nothing lost in communication and will give the team you are meeting with confidence that they will be in good hands while you are at the beach! Aim to do this one to two weeks ahead of your departure so that there is time for any questions to come up and for you to help resolve them in person.
The Final Checks: Getting Outta There.
The close out to your check out
Don’t forget your all-important away message. Even if you plan on checking email, still set a message with: the dates you are out of the office, any message on your frequency of checking email as well as the contact details for your manager and whoever else is covering for you. While you are doing your final close outs, be sure to do a final check with those who are covering for you.
Here I am not talking about remembering to pack your swimsuit etc. but instead if you will need your PC remember to pack is as well as your power leads! Otherwise you will have to ration your PC time for those morning email check-ins.
And that’s it, over and out from me, I have no plan to write a checklist for your actual time out of the office. If you like the idea of using checklists for more than your vacation planning take a look at Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande and enjoy your time out of the office!
For more on vacation management see:
“Should I Take Vacation” and “Treat Unlimited Vacation How You Should Unlimited Soda”