There’s No Shame in Working on Vacation
If it’s a choice, a little work can be a joy
First, the necessary caveats: A lot of productivity literature extols the virtue of completely disconnecting, and there are times when this is appropriate. Anyone feeling close to burnout — which is a pervasive problem — should disconnect from work in order to regain some mental space.
If you’ve never tried disconnecting for a few days, you might also give it a whirl, just to see what it’s like, and to make sure your identity isn’t totally wrapped up in work. Some small business owners feel like they can’t step away, but it behooves them to try it out too — it’s important to have systems in place in case an illness or family emergency forces the issue in the future.
And of course if you employ anyone, you need to respect those people’s vacation days. No emails, no calls, no guilt trips from the boss.
That said, for many of us, work doesn’t feel like laboring in the salt mines. I’m guessing you, Happy at Work, are asking this question because your job involves solving interesting problems with clever co-workers or collaborators. You probably enjoy that, and have a great deal of autonomy over when and where you work.
That means that the difference between being on vacation and not being on vacation isn’t a stark question of whether you go to the office or not. It’s also not a question of whether you’re doing pleasant things or unpleasant things. Work can be a source of great joy.
While people often complain that the lines between working and not-working are becoming blurred, there are ways that shift can actually promote work/life balance.
Meanwhile vacations, as anyone with small children will attest, are not inherently more relaxing than the office.
I can do the bulk of my work from anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection, and this year I’ll spend about seven weeks traveling with my family. If the expectation was that I would do zero work during those seven weeks, I would never have been able to get away for that long. But with the expectation that I can work for an hour or so per day, we’re all good.
But if you’re going to do some work on vacation, there’s another question to ask: How do you work while still enjoying your trip, and not annoying or holding back your family or travel companions?
First, try to minimize any time-specific commitments. These can wreak havoc on a schedule. What if you’ve got, say, timed Fast Passes to a ride at Disney World and your conference call starts late and runs over? As much as possible, push meetings and phone calls to non-vacation days, or specific windows of time that you’ve designated for work.
What should those windows be? This depends on the kind of vacation and your vacation companions. On my recent beach trip, I scheduled work between 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. That way, we could go to the beach in the morning, come back for lunch, and then the kids could have quiet time (reading or screens). We’d regroup and hit the beach again after.
That’s fine for trips where you’re staying in one place. If you’re going to be out and about sightseeing all day, you’re better off scheduling an early morning or evening session. Get up an hour before your family and do your work then. On a family trip to the U.K. last year, I’d work for an hour when we came back to our hotel after sightseeing, but before dinner. This worked well to hit business hours in the United States.
Key to all of this is limiting your windows for work. Don’t expect to fit in a full workday while you’re on vacation. Work can expand to fill the available space. If you decide to work for an hour, you’ll get done what absolutely has to happen during that hour. If you let the whole day be a possibility, you’ll find stuff to do — but then you won’t get the benefit of being somewhere different.
Which can be a big benefit! One of the best ways to “work” on vacation is to let your mind ponder new ideas as you explore new places. Read interesting things. See awe-inspiring sights. Talk to people. Spending an hour a day in your inbox still allows for 23 hours a day out of your inbox, and reaping the rewards of letting your mind roam. Indeed, many of my best ideas have come to me on vacation. I don’t mind that sort of vacation work at all.