How to Make Sure You're Reading Books — Not Emails — on Vacation Vacations should be a time to relax and enjoy with family or friends, but in today's connected world, it can be hard to disconnect from work.

By Michelle Arieta

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're under a soft blanket with a fire roaring in the fireplace, snow is falling outside, you have a warm drink that may or may not have a few extra ingredients, and you're settling in to read a book you've been meaning to get to for months; instead, you're reading emails on your phone. You've been looking forward to this time off for six months, so why can't you seem to enjoy it?

In today's world, it's harder than ever to unplug and take a break. When we finally do, we can't settle into it — our minds are so accustomed to staying "on" that we've lost the ability to turn them off. I've been guilty of it myself, and my two tweens have asked me more than once to put my phone away on vacation.

So, what can we do to balance our responsibilities at work with our desire to be present during our time off? I can't say I have the perfect approach (hint: there isn't one), but I do have a few strategies that bring me closer to finding this balance. We may not always be able to unplug, but we can work to be intentional with the time we have, enjoy the place we are in and appreciate the people we are there to enjoy it with.

Related: Vacation Tips From a Workaholic

1. Trust your team

If you want to enjoy your PTO, you need to trust that your team can run things while you're gone. You hired your team members for a reason — allow yourself to trust them with the responsibilities you've left behind. You can also establish what constitutes an emergency before you go, creating clear boundaries for your vacation. With this in place, you won't be bothered unnecessarily or return to find disaster has struck without your notice. Furthermore, schedule all meetings, emails and deadlines well before your time off — this will allow you to leave knowing you're not missing anything that can't wait.

2. Absolutes only lead to failure

Don't set yourself up for failure by setting absolutes. I've made this mistake myself — promising I wouldn't check emails or take calls and then not following through on that promise. My family gets annoyed, I feel guilty, and no one is happy.

You may have to check your email or take a work call when you're on PTO, and that's OK. Setting absolutes only to break them leads to strained emotions; instead, set realistic expectations with those you're vacationing with about how much work you may have to address while away.

Related: The Hidden Dangers of Not Taking Your Vacation Days

3. Give yourself a time limit

If you need to work while you're on vacation, block out times to do so. Make sure everyone on the trip knows these times, so they don't stick around waiting for you while you work in the hotel room. That said, if you set specific work hours, you need to stick to them. Try not to let any calls run over or get so absorbed that you don't look up until noon when you said you'd finish at ten. The people we are with deserve to have their time respected, and we want to ensure our work doesn't get in the way of their vacation.

4. Schedule time to relax

Sometimes, even our time off feels like work. Not because we're working the entire time, but because we schedule back-to-back activities like we do meetings.

There is nothing wrong with planning activities, but we should pair scheduled activities with times reserved for relaxing. I recently learned this on a trip to Disneyland with my family. Typically, a trip to Disney means you leave the hotel at 6:00 a.m. and don't return until midnight. But on our most recent trip, it was raining, and we were exhausted by lunchtime; instead of forcing ourselves to stay in the park (which we wouldn't have enjoyed anyway), we went back to our hotel, watched a movie and ordered pizza. After we took the time to rest, we went back out, energized and excited to take in everything the park has to offer.

Most of us live over-scheduled lives; we run from the gym to work to happy hour with friends. If we don't set aside time on our vacation to do nothing, we may never stop and take a breath. Give yourself the space to do nothing — you will enjoy spending time with "something" much more because of it.

Related: Finding Joy In The Art Of Doing Nothing

We can't wear every hat

If anyone says they have found the secret to work-life balance, approach their advice with skepticism. There is no silver bullet to allow us to be in all places simultaneously. I am a mother, wife, friend and CPO. You may be a friend, sibling, entrepreneur and dog parent. It's impossible to wear all these hats at once, nor should we try — and we definitely shouldn't try to when we're on vacation.

Don't let those books languish in your suitcase next to your skis and snow boots. Figure out what you need — a midday nap, allocated "work time" or a decisive out-of-office email — to press pause on Slack and thoroughly enjoy that warm drink.

Michelle Arieta

Senior Vice President Human Resources for MediaLab

Michelle Arieta is a strategic HR business partner who has a systematic approach to organizational issues to support performance within an organization, looking beyond the day-to-day limits of the business and focusing on long-term goals while delivering tangible results.

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