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When I was a salaried associate at a large law firm, I received four weeks of paid vacation every year. And I always took every single day. I was shocked to find out I was in the minority, and that many attorneys hadn’t taken a vacation in years! In fact, according to surveys conducted by Glassdoor and Harris Interactive, only 25 percent of Americans take all of their paid vacation and nearly 42 percent do not take any vacation.
I get it: Taking a vacation actually requires a lot of time and effort. Not only must you make travel plans and related arrangements, but work has to be managed. Don’t let those hurdles overwhelm you, though. Here’s how to get away and enjoy it!
1. Tell everyone, well in advance. Start telling colleagues, clients, judges, assistants and everyone else the dates you will be away on vacation. There is no need to say exactly what you are doing; just say you will be out of town. If possible, plan about two months in advance. Calendar it. Don’t change it. Plan around it, and have your colleagues and clients do the same.
2. Have someone cover for you. Have a colleague handle the day-to-day things that might arise in your absence. For the issues that you anticipate arising while you are away, give detailed instructions to your colleague or assistant prior to leaving. For unanticipated issues, have someone poised to handle the initial response and follow up with you. Sometimes people only need to know when to expect a response and are willing to wait until that time. When issues cannot wait, deal with them during the time set aside for checking in, discussed in the next point.
3. Communicate once or twice per day. Many of us cannot be completely away from our work for a week, if for no other reason than we would have so many messages to deal with when we returned that we could never catch up! So, before you leave, create an auto-response on your email as well as a voicemail greeting letting people know that you are away and will be checking your messages at a specified time of the day. Set a time or times each day to check in. I like to take about 30 minutes in the morning and a bit of time before dinner to check email and voicemail, and respond if necessary. Then I leave my phone in my bag or — dare I say it — in the hotel room for the rest of the day.
4. Don’t apologize. Vacations improve your health by reducing stress, improving heart health, increasing mental acuity and boosting your immune system. You aren’t a slacker because you’d like some downtime. You aren’t less dedicated to your clients because you want time to rejuvenate and reflect. Taking a vacation will make you a better lawyer — and a better person — so don’t apologize for it. Just manage it appropriately to avert potential negative impacts on clients and colleagues. Then enjoy yourself!
5. Take an extra day. Add a day to the end of your vacation to reorganize and get ready for your return to the office — but don’t tell anyone at work. If you’ll be flying back into town on Saturday, tell everyone you won’t be back until Sunday night and that you won’t be available until Monday. Use this transition day to go through your email or phone messages and get everything in order for Monday. One of the hardest parts of taking time away is the quantity of work that awaits you upon your return, coupled with all the new work that is coming in simultaneously. This combination can make it feel almost not worth it to go away. But even one day without other work interruptions can alleviate much of that problem, and is a great way to get back into the groove after time away.
You can take time away if you plan for it. And you should. You need it and you deserve it!
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