At the very beginning of my career, I organized an event for all the Editors-in-Chief in Schibsted, the media group where I spent almost 10 years.
During the first day, I noticed that two of the participants, both at the very top of big, fast-moving organizations, had very different approaches to how they spent their day.
One of them was constantly on his laptop, leaving the room to take calls and clearly had a hard time staying focused on the discussion.
The other one didn’t even have his laptop or phone out and stayed present during the whole day, often showing thought leadership while actively listening to his peers.
As the most junior participant in the room, you can imagine how these stark differences made an impression on me – the young and ambitious, but clueless, leader.
In the evening, I asked the latter of them how he managed to be so present. He replied:
“What type of organization am I running if I can’t even step out for a day?”
I never forgot that.
A lot of you are struggling to keep work at at a healthy distance during vacation, travel or even during meetings.
Here are three strategies to make sure you can step out without worrying that the whole house is going to come crashing down without you:
1. Build an independent team with clear processes
Vacation discussions aside, your long term ambition should be to have a team of smart people who are able to make their own decisions in their day-to-day jobs. Period.
To make this a reality, you need to make sure that you have the right people on your team – whether it’s hiring them, developing them, or having the wrong people “find other opportunities”.
This ensures that you ahead of time can arrange for bigger decisions or client meetings to be scheduled before or after your time away, and that you can feel assured that you have competent people in place that know what needs to be done and DO IT.
There is nothing worse than coming back to pile of problems.
2. Train people ahead of time on doing fine without you
You teach people how to treat you, so the earlier you can condition the people around you that you have limits and boundaries on evenings, weekends and/or days off, the better.
What these boundaries are are totally up to you, but since the goal here is to be able to leave without being invited to every single meeting and e-mail thread on the planet, you need to give people a chance to practice not having you around.
Put yourself in their shoes – if they are used to you always being there to answer questions or tell them what to do, it’s a huge adjustment for them if you suddenly plan to be off the grid for days in a row.
Micro managers out there – I know it’s hard. But it’s actually really nice to not be the go-to person for every little thing.
3. Manage expectations with your boss, peers and team before leaving
Finally, a few days before you are scheduled to leave, make it clear what your intentions are when it comes to e-mail/Slack/texts/phone calls.
Whether an in-person meeting or an e-mail fits your organization best, I would say something like:
“As you know, I have two weeks of vacation coming up.
I hope to use this time to reflect and come back twice as motivated, with new perspectives and ideas, which always come to me during my time off.
I will check my e-mail every day at 2 pm and respond to what seems urgent.
I will answer the rest when I get back.
If anything is on fire, you guys can reach me on my phone.
If not, I would appreciate if you could respect my time.”
And THEN, you need to stick to this.
If you are constantly checking and replying to e-mails, they will call BS.
If they call you and you go ahead with the call even after you realize it’s not urgent, they will call BS.
If you contact them and ask how something went because you’re curious, they will see that as an invitation to talk to you about other things.
If this feels impossible because you have a boss who is a jerk, you’re afraid you would get fired of you said this or you have never used language like this, you’re not alone and you just have some work to do.