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Preparing for vacation more work than staying

As employees of small businesses across the nation prepare to go on vacation, they share some common anxieties. First of all, they cannot pass their responsibilities on to someone else because there is no someone else. Besides, even if the business had the budget to spring for a temporary replacement, that person couldn’t learn the whole job with all its quirks in just a week or two.
So, understanding that there is no one else to do the job, anxiety mounts for the vacationers. All their customers won’t be away on vacation at the same time. In fact, when the customers call, they’ll sometimes comment–more than ask–in a self-righteous tone: “Oh. On vacation, huh?” They’ll act like going on vacation is a desertion of duty, a violation of the work ethic. Customers and co-workers let us know they do not want to be put out just because some people go on vacation. The onus of preparing for the leave clearly rests with the one leaving.
So what can you do? You could document your work processes and procedures. But documenting a job that has evolved over the years, or even months –to the point of becoming unconscious, habitual behavior–is not easy. And if you think it is, just try documenting your method for filing computer documents so any person of average intelligence could find them. Sense or nonsense? Only a cryptologist could tell.
But let’s imagine you did have some success writing up your job. Be sure to read it before you leave it. Could a 10-year-old get it? If not, try again–especially if you are writing for your boss. You don’t want to make the boss feel inept and foolish. And even though some of your co-workers might grasp the complexity of what you do, consider these scenarios: If your job seems confusing on paper, it could appear that you are confused. If the job looks too simple, it might seem you are overpaid. Either way you lose.
Another problem with documentation is that erstwhile grammarians and schoolteachers will have a heyday clucking over misspelled words, misplaced modifiers and questionable syntax. Best to leave them thinking you are not only a valuable worker, but also an outstanding communicator. What they don’t know, don’t show them.
Still, the job must get done while you are gone. So while you shred or erase the draft documentation, think of a better way to cover. What could you clean up? What could you reorganize to ensure smooth re- entry? Maybe you could work better by yourself when everyone else goes home– like until about 10 o’clock tonight.
You could restack project folders in order of priority. No, better stack them according to categories. Send a dozen e- mail memos so they’ll be writing to you instead of waiting for you. And, yes, read the magazines and newspapers piled a foot high on the left-hand corner of your desk. Then, lean down to the right and clean out the lower file drawer you can’t close anymore.
Now don’t forget to throw out the saccharin packets along with the half-eaten chocolate bars nestled together in the center drawer. No use giving mixed messages. And while you’re on a roll, you really should empty your wastebasket. Old Visa receipts are an open invitation for gossip about the fortune you spent on vacation outfits.
But wait! Those trivial cleanups are not high priority, and you pride yourself on working on high-priority tasks even under pressure. Besides, you’re not the kind who cares what other people think about what you think (right?).
Time’s running short–just half a day before vacation starts. Maybe going out to lunch with friends will take the pressure off so you can think straight this afternoon. It’s the right thing to do. But you know from experience that lunch will be followed by the early afternoon slump. It will be humanly impossible to overcome the slow, lazy descent into the weekend.
Don’t fight it. People must live balanced lives. Stress-management experts actually recommend frequent vacations to maintain sanity and good health. Further, it’s been proved by someone somewhere that leaving early on Fridays and not going into the office on weekends promotes greater productivity on the job than does staying late and slipping in for half a day on Saturday or Sunday. Everyone knows that all work and no play is unnatural, not to mention no fun.
It’s 4 p.m. You’ve worked hard for this vacation. What’s so important that it can’t wait one or two weeks? In the grand scheme of things, your job and the two weeks are no more than specks of dust in the universe. So just tidy up and go.
The only thing left is to get over the guilt. That will take overnight and the first hour of the first day of vacation. Bon voyage!
(Germaine Knapp is president of Worksmart of Rochester Inc., a communications-skills training company.)

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