How to Get Work Cleared Before Your Holiday Vacation

By Ali Luke

December 1, 2009   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

At this time of year, it’s a common site in any office: people scurrying around madly, frantically plastering post-it notes around the place, scribbling notes, calling out last-minute instructions, asking “where the **** did I put my plane ticket”…

Yes, it’s holiday time, and, unfortunately, that much-needed break from work can be a cause of extra stress. Have you ever rushed around trying to get everything done before heading off for two weeks? Have you ever insisted on leaving mobile numbers, hotel numbers and emergency contact details “just in case”? Have you ever started checking your work emails at the airport, before you’ve even got on your plane?

Here are seven tips to make sure you get all your work sorted out pre-vacation: you don’t want to just clear your desk, you want to clear your mind too…

  1. Delegate
    There’s a good chance you’re not delegating as much as you should be. Your vacation is an excellent opportunity to pass on some responsibilities to others: see how they handle the tasks for a couple of weeks, and, if possible, leave those tasks on their list, not yours, on your return!

If you struggle to delegate work, or if you worry that “if I want a job done well, I have to do it myself”, you might want to check out Four Steps to Easy Delegation.


  • Prioritize
    Hopefully, you’re already prioritizing your work, focusing on the actions that get you real results. When vacation time comes, you may need to get ruthless. Start by making a list of what absolutely can’t wait until your return: maybe projects with a client deadline in three days time. Get these sorted first: either finish them, or leave all the necessary instructions for someone who can.


Then figure out what shouldn’t wait, but could do in a crisis. Do these before you start thinking about the “could be put off for months” category…


  • Make a Check-List
    If you’ve got several different projects on the go, make yourself a check-list for each one, jotting down the steps you need to take before going away. Trying to keep everything in your head is a sure way to forget something important: something that will only come back into mind when you’re buckling in on the plane…



  • Set up an Out of Office Reply
    Most companies will have a policy and instructions in place on these, but if you work for yourself, or for a very small company, you may need to come up with your own. Check out how your email system works, and set up a message to be sent to anyone who emails you while you’re away.


In almost every case, you should include:

  • The dates you’re away (eg. “I am out of the office from Monday 20th July to Friday 31st July inclusive”)
  • A line such as “I will respond to your email on my return”.
  • Details of what the person should do if it’s urgent, eg. “If you need a reply before then, please contact my colleague, Bob Smith, [email protected]”.

In some cases, you may want to put a mobile number that you can be reached on.


  • Leave Instructions and Equipment Somewhere Obvious
    If you have any particular piece of office equipment (eg. the company video camera) that others are likely to need in your absence, make sure it’s not buried in the bottom drawer of your desk.


Write instructions about any common tasks that only you normally do: perhaps setting up an account for a new client on your web system. It’s generally a good idea to document these anyway (what if you’re sick?) but a vacation can spur you into action on this.

Make sure the instructions are stored in an obvious place. A searchable company intranet is good for this.

The last thing you want is someone phoning you up on vacation asking “errr, we can’t find…”


  • Leave Yourself a Note
    On your last day in the office, leave a note to yourself detailing:

    • Where you’d got up to on any unfinished tasks
    • What tasks you postponed until return
    • What needs immediate action when you get back into the office
    • Anything else you’ll worry about forgetting whilst on vacation

    You might want to include a reminder to yourself to turn off your out-of-office reply: it’s easy to forget this!



  • Relax and Enjoy It
    Surprisingly enough, your company can survive your absence for a couple of weeks – without you checking your email in the hotel lobby. Most “crisis” situations at work are really just us over-reacting: it’s rare that anything goes so wrong that an apology (and occasionally a refund to a customer) can’t fix it.


Relax and have a great vacation, in the knowledge that you left everything in the best state possible before going away.

Do you find it hard to leave work behind when you head off on vacation? What are your tips on getting things off your desk – and off your mind – before going?

Written on 12/01/2009 by Ali Hale. Ali is a professional writer and blogger, and a part-time postgraduate student of creative writing. If you need a hand with any sort of written project, drop her a line ([email protected]) or check out her website at Aliventures. Photo Credit: purpleslog
Ali Luke

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