How to Recharge Despite, Well, Everything
A friend of mine who is spending the summer working remotely from her family's lake house took last week off to relax, recharge, and get out on the water in the middle of a weekday instead of just looking at it longingly while she's on Zoom calls.
Another friend is on vacation this week. Even though she's stuck in her apartment under a strict lockdown, she's using her time to sleep, cook, write, and generally engage in self-care activities.
And a third friend is taking next week off and plans to spend a few days camping in a local state park, connecting with nature and ignoring every single one of her Slack notifications.
Vacationing this summer might not look like what you expected. There will be no trips to Europe, no big musical festivals, and certainly no all-inclusive cruises in your near-term future.
But that doesn't mean that you can't vacation—and the majority of you are still planning to. We polled our audience and found that 65% of people plan to take time off this summer, with half of them doing so as a "staycation" and half heading away from home for safe travel, and only 32% of people planning to reschedule vacation days for a later point.
Whether you take PTO to disconnect from work, catch up on household chores, reconnect with loved ones, or just relax, taking vacation is a good way to manage and support your mental health. And companies are in sync with that: a recent WSJ article explains that many companies actually want employees to take off time now because it'll reduce the chances of them burning out and it'll help avoid a glut of vacation days all taken near the end of the year.
If you are planning on still taking vacation and haven't figured out how to do so yet, here are some tips on how to make the most of it.
1. Communicate well.
You're working from home (or, said less optimistically, living at work). Can you still ask to take time off even if you're not going anywhere? The answer is unequivocally yes, but doing so isn't as straightforward as it was in the Before Times. Read the PTF guide for asking for time off while you're working remotely for tips like choosing your dates ahead of time, putting your request in writing, and setting up good escalation methods.
2. Set yourself up for success upon your return.
No one wants to click into their work inbox after a week off and find it full of disasters. PTF's Marketing Director shared her tried-and-tested approach to preparing to take time off, including a sample vacation email to send out the day before that you can and should copy, paste, and send to your manager. Don't say we never gave you anything.
3. Choose the vacation that's right for you.
Some people feel comfortable traveling for their vacation. Others don't want to leave the house. We're not here to judge anyone's plans, particularly since no one's personal circumstances and local regulations are exactly the same. As long as you are educating yourself about what's safe and allowed in your area and acting responsibly, we support any and all versions of vacations—and here are some of our favorites:
The staycation. Whether you live in a COVID-19 hotspot or just don't want unnecessary exposure, you might feel most comfortable spending time at home on your days off. Try one of these subsects of a staycation:
- The creative outlet. Bring out the puff paint, the tie-dye kits, the notebooks, the cookbooks, the charcoal: there's a new master artist in town. Spend a few days unlocking the creative side of your brain, exploring your imagination, and getting your hands dirty, and come back refreshed and full of new ideas.
- The productive sprint. Maybe you're the kind of person who loves crossing items off your to-do list, but you haven't had time to make progress on them while juggling the craziness of these last few months. Use some of your vacation days to finish those lingering house improvements, plant the garden you've been meaning to get around to, update your financial planning, or take care of whatever tasks are hanging over your head. The weight off your shoulders will be worth it.
- The backyard adventure. Sure, maybe Disney World got booted off the summer agenda. But setting up an outdoor viewing of Frozen sounds pretty fun, too, right? (Bonus points if you dress up in costume and give autographs like the characters in Orlando would've done.) Whether you go for a movie double-feature, backyard tent camping, or your own version of the American Ninja Warrior course, taking a few days off to enjoy time spent with family in your own backyard is a great idea.
- The My Week of Rest and Relaxation. Have you read Ottessa Moshfegh's darkly funny, strangely prescient novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation? If you haven't, here's a quick synopsis: a young women feeling a bit lost plans to escape life by using prescription drugs to sleep for a year. We are very much not recommending that you do that, but we do fully support you using your time off to just rest. You don't have to have a creative or productive or busy vacation—you can spend it sleeping in and reading books (starting with that one).
The local escape. If you can travel a bit outside of home, but still don't particularly want to get on a plane, try one of these vacation adventures:
- The bike trip. It feels like everyone I know is becoming a bike person and I love it. Helmeting up and biking around is a great way to get to know your own city. Look up the closest body of water and plan a trip there, decide on an arbitrary distance (maybe a century, if you're feeling strong?) and make it happen, or just head out with no destination in mind and enjoy the sound of the wind through your spokes.
- The park hop. National and state parks are, by and large, still open—and they're a great place to get in some time with nature while also social distancing. Head out for a good old-fashioned road trip with friends or family for all the hiking, mountain-worshipping, and picnicking you can handle.
- The Airbnb adventure. Maybe you want to spend your vacation doing a whole lot of nothing but want to stare at a different four walls while you do it. Look for local properties with updated cleaning polices and rent a local getaway. A change of scenery may be just what you need to finally relax long enough to watch an entire season of New Girl in peace.
- The faux luxe escape. Have you heard of apps like Swimply and Turo? The former lets you book local private pools by the hour, and the latter does the same but with private cars. Spend a day at a swimming spot that's close to home and all yours (at least for an afternoon) and another few days cruising around in your dream car, whether it's a classic or a convertible. Indulging in activities that feel like a luxury vacation but come without the all-inclusive price tag will keep both you and your wallet happy.
However you decide to safely take PTO this summer, we hope your time off helps you relax and recharge. And if you read any great books on vacation? Send those recs our way, friends.
COVID-19 has forced many of us into our homes, and remote work has been the new normal for companies all over the globe. And although a lot of us can use the time to set up productive work schedules that make room for our other priorities, there are yet some of us who are still struggling to adjust.
Maybe you're suddenly the primary educator of your young kids. Maybe you suddenly have to care for a sick relative. Or maybe neither apply but you just need time to realign and adjust to heal from your coronavirus-related anxieties.
Taking time off might seem like a difficult thing to ask for, especially when so many employers can reason that working from home means their employees are enjoying better work-life balance. But it's far from the case – and certainly a dangerous generalization.
So if you're currently itching for some much-needed time away from work, even when you're already working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, here are some tips to help you get started.
How to Ask For Time Off in the Age of COVID-19
Re-evaluate your company's leave policies
Your company's leave policies might have changed since shifting to remote work. Aside from setting new remote work policies, your company might have adjusted their rules for asking for paid or unpaid leave.
If you aren't sure what these new policies might be, you may want to check with your boss or your HR team. As everyone navigates this new normal, it might not be surprising if this information isn't widely available yet. Should that be the case, by asking the people in charge, you're also able to help your company streamline any ongoing COVID-19 employee support efforts – including ironing out leave policies when working from home.
Justify your reason for needing time off
Once you know what leaves you're entitled to, you might need to think about how you'll justify some time off from work to your manager and HR department. By now, you might already know how much time you need, so be sure to justify the length of your leave as well.
If you're able, try to negotiate clocking in this leave time under any vacation days or sick leaves you might not have used up yet. If you're taking a break for your mental health, reason with your employer that it will be good for your productivity and job satisfactionin the long-term.
Decide on start and end dates
Before speaking with anybody about your leave, pick the exact dates you want to take time off. Needless to say, if your company is in the middle of big projects this season, then you can ask yourself if you're willing to wait until things calm down before taking time off or if filing for leave can't wait.
You may also want to be prepared for any negotiations from your manager. Have any backup dates in mind, or be prepared to reason why you need to take time off on the exact dates you specify.
Give your boss a heads-up via their preferred communication method
Because you're no longer in the same office working with your boss, it might be difficult for you to muster the courage to send a text or email about your plans to take time off. But acknowledge that, as the world and workplace has changed, so must our work habits.
One way to ease some of this anxiety is to choose a communication method you and your boss frequent. If you've been communicating mainly through Slack or text, use that. Or shoot an email if that's what you know they prefer.
This quick message should just be requesting – not demanding – that you take these specific dates off and for what purpose. This most likely won't be your official notice letter in case you end up adjusting your start or end date.
Offer to get on a call with them to explain your situation in more detail
In some cases, your reason for asking for time off won't need extra explanation. But in the chance that it might – say, you work in a company that currently has no mental health programs or policies – you'd do best to offer to get on a call to explain your situation.
This is where you can tell your manager exactly why you're needing a break, be it to focus on family matters or just adjusting emotionally and mentally to the new normal.
Put it in writing
Once you and your boss have both agreed on the details of your time off, it's time to put it in writing. Clearly state your start and end dates, your reason for filing a leave, and the action steps you'll take before taking the time away (more on this in the next few sections). Be sure to copy in your HR department too.
Over-communicate before taking time off
When you're preparing to go on leave, especially when working from home, over-communicating is the name of the game. This means being very verbal about new project updates leading up to your first day off, as well as copying in people who might be covering for you.
To keep the entire passing-the-baton process easier for you and your co-workers, organize your projects, reports, and other resources and be hyper-detailed about where each ongoing task stands. (Here's our checklist for what to do on your last day before going on vacation!)
Inform everyone who needs to know your schedule
Shoot a mass email to your other co-workers informing them about your scheduled time off. In this email, you can explain if you'll be accessing any email or texts during your break or if you'll be staying off work communication as much as possible.
Offer ways to get in touch with you in the event of urgent needs
Decide if and how often you'll be checking in. Ensure people know how they can contact you if urgent concerns arise, or who they should contact in your absence.
After all, everyone in your company is adjusting to this new mode of work – and things may come up.
Set up your vacation responders and statuses
The day before you take your break, set up autoresponders on your work emails and switch any statuses you might have on messaging applications. While your co-workers might know you're away, your accounts or clients might not.
Include information about who's covering for you and how to get in touch with them, and put in a short note about when you'll be going back to work so people know when to expect hearing back from you.
Ask for time off the right way
Asking for time off when you work remotely in the age of COVID-19 can seem intimidating – but if you need the break, you should take it. What's good for your mental health in the short-term will be better for you and the company in the long-term. Remember that as an employee you're still entitled to leaves and breaks; you just have to approach your managers and HR team the right way.