Out-of-office: the ultimate checklist to ensure you relax this festive season

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Meena Alexander
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Out of office: the ultimate guide to switching off while on holiday

The Christmas period is usually packed with trying to negotiate various social situations, from trying to avoid discussing politics at Christmas Day dinner to frantically seeing who’s available for New Year’s Eve. So the last thing we need is for our jobs to spill into the holiday season. Here’s how to switch off from work, and find your festive spirit away from work.

I haven’t accrued a huge amount of wisdom in my life so far, but this much I know: you cannot conduct any sort of serious business in a room full of people tearing open Christmas presents, or while reclining on a sunlounger on your sunny getaway from all things festive.

I know this because I’ve seen someone attempt to do the latter. The result was a sangria-soaked laptop and a very disgruntled travelling companion.

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We all know how hard it is to separate work and play in an era when a ‘Per my last email’ can be pinged to the palm of your hand whether you’re on a cable car in Courchevel or a massage bed in Bali or, as most of us will be, in our childhood homes surrounded by our loved ones, but our perpetual state of ‘on’-ness is exactly why switching off on holiday is more vital to our health and happiness than ever.

Unfortunately, as a generation, we’re not very good at downtime. 

Despite it being proven that taking time out from work and the stresses of everyday life boosts our productivity and contentment when we return, a study by the Institute of Leadership & Management found that more than 64% of full-time workers read and respond to emails while on holiday and 73% feel more stressed than usual in the run-up to annual leave.

Out of office: ensure you have time to relax this festive period by switching off from work.
Out of office: ensure you have time to relax this festive period by switching off from work.

And trust me, I get it. The idea of checking out of our work lives so we can concentrate fully on everything the Christmas period – that stretch of time between Christmas Day and the first few days of the new year – brings us can be both tempting for a couple of reasons. It could be nice, we tell ourselves, to have a legitimate excuse to skip out of the annual family argument about the best Christmas film. Plus, if we keep on top of our work, then there’ll be less panic once we return to our desks.

But as tempting as it is to keep checking your email every time you hear a ping, we need to make sure we switch off properly. By ignoring work for those precious few days, we’re giving ourselves the mental space to enjoy our time off (even those arguments). Welcome to your ultimate out-of-office checklist:

1. Draw a line under work

Let’s start with the hardest one, shall we? As more of us go freelance, juggle side hustles and buckle under the weight of our inboxes, a job can feel less like a 9-5 and more like a lifestyle.

But when it comes to taking a holiday, we have to be firm about stepping away from work – both with our colleagues and with ourselves. Tying up any loose ends, writing a to-do list for when you get back and ensuring everyone knows you’re going away makes this 10 times easier. 

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Treat the days before you head out of the office like the end of a term: leave nothing half-written, half-baked or half-done, and if you must, delegate the rest of the project to a colleague.

There’s nothing worse than having unfinished business hanging over your head while you’re trying to chill out. It might mean staying an hour later on your last day, but it will make crafting that smug out-of-office email all the sweeter.

2. Tackle your to-do list

If you’re anything like me, you probably have a to-do list so chock-full of life admin that it’s starting to resemble a never-ending scroll. And undoubtedly, some of it has been languishing on there for months (I’m never going to go to the drycleaners, that’s just a fact). 

Out of office: cull your to-do list before you go on your break.
Out of office: cull your to-do list before you go on your break.

Pre-holiday is a perfect time for a to-do list cull – I recommend removing anything you’ve been putting off for more than a few weeks (it clearly isn’t that important) then tackling the rest with the enthusiasm of a woman who has a Christmas tipple firmly in her sights. Future-you will be very grateful.

3. Ask a friend to check on your flat/swiss cheese plant

Wondering whether you’ve turned off all the lights or are being aggressively burgled at any given moment can take up a lot of thinking time while on holiday, but there is a simple resource you can tap up to mitigate these worries: your lovely friends. 

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If you’re close with a neighbour, ideal – otherwise, it’s unlikely a pal who lives nearby will mind checking in on your home every couple of days just to put your mind at ease. Chances are they’ll love an excuse to have a snoop around.

4. Ditch the data

There is so much happening online every minute of every day that we can feel like we’re missing out if we don’t check our phones constantly. 

But being able to see where your friends are planning to meet up for dinner or what your colleagues are discussing on Slack is entirely useless when you’re away, and it’ll only distract you from the real-life experiences at hand.

Out of office: turn off the data this Christmas and relax.
Out of office: turn off the data this Christmas and relax.

Try doing without data and only using wifi for a short period every day – removing the temptation to Instagram every Christmas moment means you’ll be more engaged with your companions and less concerned with watching the likes and comments roll in.

Plus, looking through your pictures in the evening and choosing what you want to share then can be a nice way of reviewing the day.

5. Soften the blow

With a bit of organisation, the existential dread that comes at the end of some time off can be nipped in the bud.

Although we always want to make the most of our annual leave, planning to head straight into work the day after the New Year celebrations is a recipe for early onset holiday blues. 

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Make sure you have at least half a day as a buffer, and book in a catch-up with friends or family. Having something quick and tasty in the freezer and fresh bed linen ready for your return will make home all the more inviting, too.

Go forth and holiday.

Images: Getty