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Fear-free vacation, part I: look busy while you recharge
Many are afraid to take vacations these days, according to a recent study by Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The 200,000 layoffs in the United States in January alone underscore the importance of looking essential in the workplace. But, you can't push on forever. Fatigue will catch up with you, and you'll just need a break. Instead of skipping your vacation and burning out – or taking your trip and worrying the whole time – just look busy. Get credit for being a committed company guy without actually getting committed.
It's not hard to look busy in the wired age. Armed with a laptop, Blackberry and easy access to the web, you can swap e-mails, review documents and stay on top of your workload. This, however, is exactly what you should not be doing. That's action work – which you need to avoid for a bit. So, instead of being a slave to your devices, the advice below to look like a machine even when your mind couldn't be farther away from the office.
1. Take care of the easy stuff fast
Yes, this involves doing work ... but it's easy work. If you see an e-mail that doesn't take a whole lot of brain power to answer, click away at the keyboard. You'll look responsive, helpful and generally in touch.
2. Buy time
For more involved questions, reply quickly with something like, "Give me a few days to wrap my head around this. Can we catch up when I get back?" Again, you look engaged, even though you really give less than a damn about your colleague's needs.
3. Save some e-mails for later
You don't have to reply to all the easy messages right away. Put some off until right before you go to bed. It'll look like you're blocking out time late at night to address company issues.
4. Reply from your laptop
If the recipient gets an e-mail from your laptop (rather than your Blackberry), the e-mail signature should show the difference. Even if you clear the "Sent by Blackberry" message from your account, you won't have the benefit of your sig line – name, address, phone number, etc. Someone will notice the difference. Using your laptop means your laptop is open (duh) ... and implies that you're on the clock.
5. Hold back some productivity
Everybody tries to tie up loose ends before going on vacation (or should). The mistake they make, though, is sending everything before they leave. Save some stuff to send when you arrive at your destination and hint that you took care of it on the plane.
6. Print a tree's worth of documents
When you do this, make sure people at the office see you. It'll look like you're bulking up for the flight.
7. Check in
Don't be too showy. Shoot a simple e-mail to your boss, asking, "Anything blowing up I need to know about?"
Risk: The answer may be "yes."
8. Schedule your e-mail
If you're running on certain e-mail systems, you can schedule messages to send at a specific time. Use this to push e-mails while you're on the beach, at the bar or in the spa. Be careful, though, as someone may reply.
9. Make up a contact
Here it goes: "I met this really interesting [choose profession]. We spent half a day by the pool talking about [something relevant to your job]." Then, tell your boss you need a few days to digest it. If he remembers – or cares – about what you were "digesting," just say that your company "isn't there yet" and sigh or roll your eyes.
Not enough for you? Don't worry, this is just the beginning. We'll have more tomorrow!