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Say No to A Working Vacation: 9 Ways to Make the Most of Your Time Before You Hit The Beach


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by Brian P. Moran, co-author of “The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months

Did you know 61 percent of employed Americans expect to have to do some work while on vacation? According to a recent survey, it’s true. This reality is why so many of us approach vacation with mixed emotions. You’re excited about the quality time with your family and hopeful that this will be the year you’re able to truly unplug. But there’s also a dull sense of dread as you stress about how you’ll ever get everything done beforehand. You’d love to be part of the minority of people who just cut all ties with work for the week, but you know that just isn’t a reality. Or is it?

It absolutely is, and not only that, it’s essential.

Successful people work with great focus and intention, and they play the same way. When they’re working they’re really working, and when they’re vacationing they’re really vacationing. Rest and rejuvenation are the other side of the success coin.

You must be purposeful about how you spend the time leading up to your vacation. The reason people end up working from their hotel room isn’t that they just have so much to do that they can never take a break. It’s that they aren’t working with intention — and thus, they aren’t executing effectively.

Being intentional about how you spend your time is the heart of the message. Our ability to do so impacts not only business profit sheets but also the quality of our personal lives.

Many of us spend our days reacting to problems rather than proactively moving toward our goals, and that’s how we end up feeling pulled in a hundred different directions.And of course, it’s also why we find ourselves in so much trouble when vacation time rolls around.

Below are a few essential tips for what you can do right now to make sure your vacation is truly a time for rest and relaxation:

1. Picture the perfect vacation.

Hours on the beach with your kids — building sand castles and riding waves. Romantic evenings out with your spouse. A little uninterrupted reading time by the pool. These are the makings of a great vacation, and they should serve as the vision that will drive you through the hard work you’ll have to get done before you hit the beach.

Vision is the starting point of all high performance. It is the first place where you engage your thinking about what is possible for you. The more personally compelling your vision is, the more likely it is that you will act upon it. It is your personal vision that creates an emotional connection to the daily actions that need to take place in your business. Once you understand the link between your vision of the perfect vacation and your work, you can define exactly what you need to do to make that great vacation happen.

2. Create a pre-vacation work plan.

Our book emphasizes the benefits of planning how you use your time via 12 week increments. Of course, as summer creeps to an end most people probably don’t have 12 weeks to work with before their vacations. That’s okay. The same principles you would use to make a 12 week plan can be used to plan out the weeks and days left before your vacation.

In “The 12 Week Year“, we explain that working from a plan has three distinct benefits. It reduces mistakes. It saves time. And it provides focus. Planning, they write, allows you to think through in advance the best approach to achieving your goals. You make your mistakes on paper, which reduces miscues during implementation.

Leading up to your vacation, it is a good idea to create a plan for each work week you have left. Your weekly plan encompasses your strategies and priorities, your long-term and short-term tasks, and your commitments in the context of time. For example, as part of the first week of your pre-vacation plan you might set up a meeting with your boss, colleagues, and/or clients to a) inform them of your upcoming vacation and b) let them know what projects you’re going to prioritize. Then in the last week before vacation, block out time to inform your clients that you’ll be out of the office and whom they should contact while you’re out. This helps you focus on the elements of your plan that must happen each week in order to make that perfect vacation vision possible.

3. Resign yourself to being uncomfortable NOW so you can be comfortable LATER.

Without a compelling reason to choose otherwise, most people will take comfortable actions over uncomfortable ones. This is just human nature. Problem is, the uncomfortable tasks you avoided prior to your vacation are precisely the ones that will blow up or get out of control while you’re trying to enjoy some time on the beach.

Important actions are often the uncomfortable ones. In our experience, the number-one thing you will have to sacrifice to be great, to achieve what you are capable of, and to execute your plans is your comfort. So, if your goal is to have a carefree vacation, commit to sacrificing your short-term comfort so that you can reach it. Take care of any tasks you’ve been avoiding now so that they can’t ruin your vacation and so that they aren’t on your mind when you’re trying to have a good time.

4. Know what to do when you’re not doing the things you know you need to do.

Of course, upping the work ante prior to going on vacation won’t be easy. There will be times when your level of execution is less than exceptional, and it’s very likely you won’t be able to ignore the nagging, guilty feeling that drop in execution brings on. But the good news is you can use that feeling — what the authors call productive tension — to get yourself back on track.

Productive tension is the uncomfortable feeling you get when you’re not doing the things you know you need to do. Our natural inclination when confronted with discomfort is to resolve it. Sometimes this leads people to simply bail on their plans. In your case, it might mean resolving that you simply can’t get everything done before your vacation that you need to get done. So you throw in the towel and accept that you’ll have to make your vacation a working vacation.

But productive tension can also be used as a catalyst for change. Instead of responding to the discomfort by bailing, use the tension as an impetus to move forward. When you eliminate bailing out as an option, then the discomfort of productive tension will eventually compel you to take action on your tactics. If turning back is not an option, then the only way to resolve the discomfort is to move forward by executing your plan.

5. Make the most of performance time and down time.

As you work toward your vacation, it will be very important that you not respond to the demands of the day reactively. In other words, you can’t satisfy the various demands of the day as they are presented, spending whatever time is needed to respond without giving any thought to the relative value of the activity. You have to use your time wisely.

6. You can keep control of your day through time-blocking.

Basically, you block your day into three kinds of blocks—strategic blocks, buffer blocks, and breakout blocks. A strategic block is uninterrupted time that is scheduled into each week. During this block, you accept no phone calls, no faxes, no emails, no visitors, no anything. Buffer blocks are designed to deal with all of the unplanned and low-value activities — like most email and voicemail — that arise throughout a typical day, while breakout blocks provide free time for you to use to rest and rejuvenate.

Breakout blocks bring up an important point. Even in the frantic rush leading up to a vacation, you should allow yourself some down time. Always working longer and harder kills your energy and enthusiasm. Even before your vacation you need to schedule time to refresh and reinvigorate, so you can continue to engage with more focus and energy.

7. Don’t go it alone.

It’s likely that out of your network of colleagues and friends you aren’t the only one who is a) hoping to have a work-free vacation and b) currently working frantically to make that goal possible. And if that’s the case, team up with them. The peer support you receive will be invaluable in your pursuit of the perfect vacation.

Your chances of success are seven times greater if you employ peer support. In working with thousands of clients over the past decade, we have found that when clients meet regularly with a group of peers, they perform better; when they don’t, performance suffers. It’s that simple.

But there is a caveat. Who you associate with matters. Stay away from victims and excuse makers. Treat that mindset like a deadly, contagious disease.

8. Isolate yourself from modern day distractions.

In our modern world, technology can be a major distraction. When you’re focused on executing your pre-vacation plan, don’t let smartphones, social media, and the Internet distract you from your higher-value activities.

Some spontaneity is healthy, but if you are not purposeful with your time, you’ll get thrown off course. Allow yourself to get distracted by emails, social media, or the latest viral video while you’re working your pre-vacation plan, and before you know it, you’ll be on your vacation, stuck in your hotel room working on the project you didn’t finish while your family is playing on the beach. Learn to isolate yourself from distractions when there is important work to be done.

9. Make a keystone commitment when you start your vacation.

Many of our clients set a 12 week goal in a certain area — say, getting fit. Then they build a 12 week plan around it with a handful of tactics like “do 20 minutes of cardio three times a week,” “train with weights three times a week,” and so forth. But the other option is to again set a 12 week goal but, rather than building a tactical plan, identify a keystone or core action and commit to completing it every day for the next 12 weeks. It’s this second option that can help you make the most of your vacation.

Your keystone commitment might be making breakfast for your family every morning — something you don’t get to do during a normal work week. Or you might commit to taking a walk on the beach every day with your spouse. Or to going on a one-on-one adventure with each of your kids before the week is up.

Setting a keystone commitment helps you avoid wasting your time on meaningless activities — like sleeping too late every day. Remember, your pre-vacation plan was all about spending your time with great intent and purpose so that you’d be able to have a great vacation. Why should you stop being more purposeful with your time once you’re actually on vacation? Think about the difference these relatively simple commitments can make to you and your family!

Your vacation time is precious. Don’t ruin it by giving your BlackBerry all the attention. You need that time to rest and rejuvenate so that when you do go back to work you’re ready and committed to making great things happen. And you and your family deserve that uninterrupted time together. Set your vision. Make a plan. Stay the course. When you’re relaxing on the beach, you’ll be so glad you did.


Co-author of “The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months” Brian P. Moran is founder and CEO of The Execution Company, an organization committed to improving the performance and enhancing the quality of life for leaders and entrepreneurs. As an entrepreneur, he has led successful businesses and been instrumental in the growth and success of many others. In addition to his books, Brian has been published in many of the leading business journals and magazines. He is a sought-after speaker, educating and inspiring thousands each year.