Making Work, Work

As schools in the UK get ready to break up, thoughts turn to summer holidays and some well earned R&R. Or at least, they should be turning to those things. As Bloomberg law reported in 2018, lawyers are notoriously bad at taking holidays. Despite the comparatively generous allowances provided by many big law firms, less than a third of lawyers use up all of their holiday allocation, according to a study by career research company Vault. Just 31% of associates working at American law firms took all of their holiday allowance, a picture that is similar to lawyers in many other countries too. And of course, among those that do take all their holiday entitlement are those who took the work with them, both physically and psychologically, with all too many employers only happy to encourage them.

It is vital for lawyers to properly step away from work on a regular basis. A summer holiday means a chance to spend days outdoors, cut out screen time and get stuck into that book that has been on your to-read list for far too long. It is a time to focus on loved ones, and reconnect with everything that makes you ‘you’, outside of work. Taking the opportunity to spend a few days, a week or more completely out of office should be a priority, helping you to reset and return to work refreshed and motivated.

Whether you have already booked an extended stay abroad, or are thinking about some long weekends exploring what your own country has to offer, we want you to make the most of it! Here is some advice on how to enjoy stress-free summer travel in 2019.

#1 Create An Itinerary

It may seem counterintuitive – a summer holiday is meant to be a time for spontaneity and to switch off from planning and scheduling, but a properly thought out itinerary is a must. If you are heading to an unfamiliar area without an itinerary, you will end up spending too much time trying to figure out transport, location whereabouts, other details such as payment options/booking fees, before realising you haven’t brought vital items such as suitable shoes/swim gear etc with you… Knowing in advance what you want to do and what you will need to do to get there will help you to avoid typical stress points of travelling.

An itinerary also helps you to get a better sense of the needs and preferences of your travel partner, or members of the family/group you are travelling with. Working out what you want to do together ensures you have everyone’s interests covered, and brings everyone together in the excitement of what’s ahead.

For the tech lovers amongst you, there are apps that can help you create a list of activities, travel routes and packing lists. For Gmail users, Google Trips is an ideal one-stop shop to organise your travel documents and information, as well as providing customised maps showing all the landmarks, restaurants, bars and points of interest near where you are staying. Check out this list for 5 other popular trip-planning apps.

#2 …But Don’t Try to Plan the ‘Perfect’ Holiday!

It’s only natural that we make summer holiday plans with a picture painted by many idealistic travel agency adverts in our minds. However, with all the planning and organising in the world, things will always happen outside of expectations and there are effective ways to manage your mental health in the dog days of summer.

Holidays are not about trying to recreate an ideal; they are highly personal, and are inevitably affected by natural occurrences out of our own control – illness, changes in weather, even changes in mood can alter the image you had in mind. So while an itinerary is important, don’t get caught up with trying to tick off every essential you’ve read in Lonely Planet. Be realistic, go with the flow, and be prepared for things to not quite go to plan, and you won’t be needlessly disappointed.

#3 Write a Holiday Journal or Read Books

Spend a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day of your holiday writing down the agenda for the day, what you did, what you learned, what you felt etc. This will help you remember the smaller moments and capture the complete experience of the holiday beyond the photos. It will also help you appreciate the time after you return, and reading over each day will provide the inspiration you need to plan your next trip.

If writing’s not your thing, read books you don’t have time to read the rest of the time. From Oprah’s Best Beach Reads to the FT’s selection of summer books, there’s a whole world of wonderful books to escape your work life if not in person, at least in spirit.

#4 Disconnect Your Work Devices

Have we made this point (more than once) before!? It’s advice that bears repeating: to avoid slipping into being ‘on’, make sure all notifications and synced inboxes/document drives are disconnected from mobile devices before you set off. Dads Net has a helpful list of tips to take a digital detox.

If you feel it might make you more anxious to be completely switched off from work, bring a separate work device/laptop that you can lock up and leave in your apartment or hotel room, to be accessed only when you have some down time and are in the right mental place to check in and, most importantly, check out again.

#5 Set Boundaries With Your Out-of-Office 

When setting your out-of-office answer phone and email auto-reply, don’t be ambiguous: Make it clear you are on holiday and will not be checking communications. Yes you are a lawyer, so the likelihood is this won’t be strictly true, but it is better not to give the impression that you are on call in your absence. Try not to use phrases such as ‘if urgent I will…’ ‘or I will have limited access…’. This is a good guide to draft an effective out of office message.

If applicable, provide the details of the colleague who will be covering, and give the date of your return. As long as you have giving your clients prior warning of your absence and have ensured that pressing matters and impending deadlines have been dealt with/will be dealt with before you head off, there should be no need to be reachable at any time during your holiday.

Wishing you a safe, relaxing and fun summer holiday!

Family & Work

I have been finding it difficult to switch off from work on days off in recent times, particularly due to a demanding client I currently work with. It’s taking its toll on my health and I really want to have some proper downtime with my family this Christmas. How can I make sure work won’t creep in during my break?

All of us who feel passionately about our work can find it difficult to switch off during days off. We constantly think about solutions or new ideas, and that often inevitably leads to: “I’ll just note that down”, or “I’ll send that email now so I don’t forget” and before we know it we’ve lost a couple of hours doing research and notes and checking inboxes.

It is incredibly important to make sure you take a proper break from work, particularly if you work remotely where the lines between work and the home can become all too easily blurred. There are very real consequences of burnout and an increase in sick days taken, as well as an increase in malaise and dissatisfaction with work that you never feel you have distance from. It is up to you to use your extended holiday wisely and come back refreshed and ready to get stuck in again.

It can be even more difficult to take that one eye off the email for an extended time when you are facing pressure from a particularly difficult client or colleague. As long as you have everything completed before the official holiday periods that you said you would, you are under no obligation to fulfil additional demands when you have confirmed holiday dates. If you feel you are being coerced or pressured to work over the festive season, it is time to push back. Your time is managed by you, you should be trusted to have completed what needs to be done and continue to do so after the break you are so entitled to. Be firm and politely reemphasise that your days off are as agreed and that you will not be available between those dates. Explain what you have completed and what will be picked up on your return, to reassure the client you are in full control of your workload and schedule.

Switching off – figuratively and literally

A big part of the switching off problem is our constantly connected culture. This Christmas, make it a priority to be strict with social media and technology. Switch off work laptops and computers and turn off email alerts on mobile devices. On social media, consider un-following any industry related pages temporarily to stop reminders of work and associated feelings of stress and guilt creeping up as a result. Read books and magazines rather than articles online to avoid getting distracted and sucked into a rabbit hole of information.

It’s one thing to switch off from the screen, it’s another to switch off mentally and be fully present with family, relations and friends. One thing particularly hard is to not think about what is coming on the other side; watching the days count down to the return to the routine. Keep perspective and remember you are not the only one taking a break – the vast majority, or if not all of those you work alongside are too, so not much is happening without you! Spend the eve of the holiday writing a to do list for your first day back, so you know you have everything clear in your mind what you need to do from the moment that next working day comes around – then put it away and don’t look at it again until the eve of the return!

If you are a natural planner and miss the routine, it may also help to make a series of plans for fun things to do. Even if the list consists of simple things like watching a particular movie on television together, mapping out what relaxing and fun activities you have in store will stop boredom creeping in and endangering your focus on family and friends.

With all that said, sometimes spending time with relatives comes with challenges of its own, whether it is dealing with underlying conflicts or even just simple logistics of getting to see everyone. It is important to allow your own time for relaxation. Remember not to put too much pressure on yourself to ‘please’ and feel you are responsible for everyone’s happiness. Don’t let visits become your sole responsibility either: if you’re finding it difficult to visit everyone, request they come to you or arrange a suitable half way point where you can all be waited on and escape the pressure of hosting for an afternoon. This is your holiday too and stress and obligation should not take over the joyful festivity of the season. Sit back, enjoy, let all the family do their part and share in the responsibilities – if you have children who are old enough give them tasks such as wrapping or laying tables, young people love to feel helpful and part of the preparations so you’re giving them more enjoyment too, while taking the pressure off your own shoulders.

The Agony Aunt wishes you and all our readers a happy and healthy Christmas.