In these strange times the rules and restrictions on foreign travel seem to change more quickly than the weather, and many people are resigned, or happily anticipating, holidaying closer to home this year. Some people are using the term staycation to describe a vacation which takes place in one’s own country, but the true definition is simply taking time away from work, while staying at home – making the most of personal time to relax and enjoy some leisure, (as opposed to chores and DIY domesticity).
What about if you work at home, though?
Lots of people already talk about the lack of boundaries they experience leading to a feeling of living at work rather than working from home at least some of the time. And who wants to take a holiday at work?
This is why if you work from home, planning a staycation needs to be a little bit more tactical, otherwise you may not get the benefits that such a break could bring into your life.
Plan for success
As with every holiday, preparation is everything.
You might not be juggling flight schedules and vaccination certificates in order to prepare for a staycation, however you can most certainly make the most the lead-up in enjoyable anticipation, planning how you’re going to spend your time. It’s really important to do this, as everybody who has seen a weekend at home fizzle away into a blend of mindless TV viewing interspersed with housework can testify.
To make the most of your work from home staycation I recommend getting out of your house, as much as you safely and legally can.
Investigate local attractions, who might well be suffering from a dearth of long-distance tourism and truly welcome local visitors – try seeing your area through fresh eyes, and use review and recommendation sites like TripAdvisor to help you with this. It’s enlightening to read what strangers have thought about the things you may have forgotten about, or never knew were on your doorstep.
This is the chance to go and support those local businesses and sites which bring much-needed revenue into your area in normal times, and can frequently be enjoyed now with fewer crowds and some great special deals. I recently took my daughter and friends to the aquarium in Valencia which I had not visited for many years, and was running at about 1/10 of its normal occupancy – dreadful for the aquarium commercially, but actually fantastic for visitors. We were able to linger as long as we wanted staring at sharks and seahorses, with no sense at all of dangerous overcrowding, and zero waiting time for everything from refreshments to media entertainment. I know we will never enjoy that place again in such a leisurely and relaxed way, because it will either survive and return to normal levels by next summer or it won’t survive at all – that is out of our hands, but at least we put some money in the till for now, and had a great day out.
So do your research, see what visitors in happier times have thought about whatever you are lucky enough to have close by, from beautiful hikes to world beating attractions – even once which might not normally interest you.
And if you do have domestic projects to accomplish, try to plan and manage them so they don’t impinge on your entire break. Make them a project in their own right which you can tackle collectively and accomplish something together, rather than those ongoing maintenance chores which suck up vast amounts of time, but are best corralled into corners of our regular working week if at all posible.
Getting things done
One thing I certainly noticed on my recent break was that burst of efficiency I got in the days running up to the arrival of family visitors and my anticipated downtime. This was familiar, of course, but in the circumstances, I hadn’t felt it for a while – that sense of urgency, and productively whipping through the to-do list, tying up loose ends, and clearing the decks, which you do when you’re new you know you are going to be logging off.
For the past year and a half everything has tended to blend into one amorphous blob of time – even if you try to avoid working at weekends, there is little sense of wrapping things up and putting work away in a box for a few days, and the associated streak of getting things done which that brings to you.
If no better reason than to engineer that again in future, I’d recommend booking yourself out some staycation time!
Protecting your boundaries
Once you do log off however, you need to stay that way through the duration of your break, and you need to set boundaries on the technology that you used to do your work.
Especially if some of it is also the technology you used to live your life – like your mobile phone. Setting an out of office on your email is all very well, but if you’re going to look at it on your mobile in the meantime that won’t do the trick.
Depending on your workflow and what is expected of you by yourself and others think about how to limit your exposure. For example, can you log out of your email on your phone altogether, logging back in to check every few days? Can you sign out of alerts so they don’t bug you, with those little red dots showing how many unread messages are piling up?
Could you go for the full nuclear option, and set an out-of-office message which says that messages received between given dates will not be read at all, and therefore if it is important, they need to resend it after you have returned from your break?
As a freelancer I’ve never quite dared to do this, mindful of unknown opportunity costs, but it’s a very enticing idea…
Don’t forget other channels, besides email.
As we pointed out in the recent review of Cal Newport’s book, the hive mind hydra now pervades multiple applications and conversations which are set to pursue you everywhere you connect with the wider online world.
So you need to break those connections wherever you can – sign out of all the messaging channel channels and apps and groups, and use whatever status settings or away messages are available to you there to manage expectations of anyone who might be trying to get in touch with you. Depending on your profesional responsibilities you may have to leave some back doors open – so maybe your key client has your personal mobile number in case the website you maintain for them actually falls over, or the server blows up – but they will never use it without it being an emergency of that calibre, so you can log out of the team messaging service with a clear conscience.
Have a direct conversation with all stakeholders involved and let them know the score – “I have a visit from my parents for the first time in nearly 2 years, and will not be responding to messages until the 30th. Please don’t resend until then, and if there is a dire emergency then X has my off-line contact information.”
If you take appropriate preemptive steps you should be able to enjoy your staycation, reclaiming your home and locality as a place to enjoy leisure and company, as well as a place you do your work and live your day-to-day life.
The refreshing upside
One other benefit I’d also nearly forgotten about, was that simply disengaging from work in this way often brings clarity and creativity in ways you didn’t expect.
Because you’re disconnected from your usual tools as above, make sure you have some means at home to capture all the brilliant ideas and creative notions which come to you, whether you’re sitting on the beach or up a mountain or chewing the fat with friends and sharing stories. Much the same way as you can have breakthroughs in the shower or the middle of the night, changing the context can unlock all sorts of creative innovation.
It’s important not to fire up your normal messaging tools at this point, just make a note somewhere (paper or electronic) to capture the thought, then you can let it go until the appropriate time to review it along with the rest of your inbox.
Just like closing down your work day in order to enjoy the weekend, or even the evening, when you work from home, a certain amount of ritual and constructive creation of boundaries becomes essential. Preparing for a staycation is just an extension of this, but the effects can be very powerful, and it’s well worth doing. When you come back to work restored in body and mind you’ll be glad you did.