While you're away, the office will be okay

Before you leave for the beach or the hills, make peace with your work

By Sam Grobart, Money Magazine senior editor

(Money Magazine) -- So summer's here, and the thermometer has consistently hovered at 80-plus. You've got one thing and one thing only on your mind, and it's not the Hickenlooper report, which was due last week: You want to get straight out of the office and take a vacation.

And that's nothing to feel guilty about. We all need to go out of town from time to time and do absolutely nothing useful. It helps to recharge the batteries - or at least fire up your planning for retirement, when you can do nothing all the time.

Sam Grobart

(Note to employers: Vacations benefit you too. A few weeks off, sprinkled throughout the year, keep employees rested and ready for the daily grind - um, I mean work's exciting challenges.)

It's how you step away from your work that makes the difference between a vacation and some time out of the office, where you're physically somewhere else but your mind's still back at your desk.

Here are a few ways to make sure you can relax in peace:

Leave the office shipshape

When it's time to shove off for some R&R, you'll likely have to delegate your daily responsibilities and projects to your colleagues. Realize that you're giving people access to information and processes they may not normally see, so your work had better reflect well upon you.

When Steven Rizzuli, a real estate agent in West Palm Beach, Fla., took over some deals a vacationing colleague at a former office had left behind, he discovered that "things were in a shambles. Clients' calls hadn't been returned, filings were past deadlines. It was a mess."

His colleague returned from vacation to a meeting with his manager and a stern warning.

So before you go, get your affairs completely organized before you hand them over to someone else. Make sure that, should anyone need to poke around your tasks while you're gone, they'll discover that you are a model of efficiency and order. (That European vacation's gonna cost you)

Game the system at your peril

Many companies have several different categories of leave, from "personal days" to "working from home." Make it clear to your boss (and HR) which you are taking.

A young and inexperienced friend of mine (let's call him Gram Sobart) once calculated that if he said he was "working from home," he could score an extra three-day weekend. His boss, oddly enough, took the whole "working from home" business literally and called Gram throughout the day.

Meanwhile, Gram was on a fishing boat in the Atlantic, neither working nor at home. If I - I mean, my friend - had simply taken a vacation day or a personal day, he would have been able to hunt for striped bass in peace, and his boss wouldn't have been ticked off that his employee was AWOL.

Get approval in writing

It's important that everyone know exactly when you'll be out on vacation. It isn't enough to pop your head into your boss' office and say "Is it cool if I'm gone from the 18th to the 23rd?" E-mail your boss with your request and keep his or her okay on file, just in case on the 17th she thinks she can assign you to finish the spreadsheets for Pumpington Industries. You'll save yourself and everyone else a lot of headaches if all parties agree to grant you leave.

Leave contact info - as needed

Here's the thing about out-of-office messages: People want to know you're gone, when you'll be back and whom to talk to in your absence. If you're giving them your itinerary, your cell-phone number, your hotel room and the name of the bellboy in case of deliveries, you need to take a deep breath.

First off, acting as if you are indispensable and the only capable person in your area is an insult to people back at HQ who are subbing for you.

Second, you're going to screw up your vacation with nonurgent junk if you start giving people myriad ways to contact you.

"I once was sitting on the beach when my cell phone rang," says Charles Newboldt, a telecom executive in Annapolis, Md. "It turned out to be a cold-call sales pitch from a vendor I never heard of. When I asked him how he found me, he said, 'Your voice mail said to call you at this number if it was an urgent matter.' "

Stay in touch, but not too much

There seem to be two species of vacationers. One is the dedicated worker bee who can't stop making phone calls, checking e-mails and hogging computers at the hotel's business center.

The other is the footloose and free spirit who can leave her laptop at home while she revels in wall-to-wall fun and frivolity.

The first example is pretty unappealing, but aiming for the second may be asking too much of yourself. Sure, some people may be able to leave it all behind, but for many the anxiety of not knowing what's going on can put a serious damper on vacation fun.

The trick is to be reasonable about it. If being out of the loop is going to make you tense and irritable, then you're not going to have a good vacation. Instead, consider doing what Elizabeth Epstein, a Chicago marketing executive, does when she's on vacation.

"I set aside 20 minutes each morning to review e-mail messages," she says. "Once I get that out of the way, I can enjoy my vacation because I know everything back at the office is okay."

Just remember to stick to that 20-minute limit. Any more than that and you've merely spent a lot of your own money to go do your job somewhere else.  Top of page