07/20/2012 03:56 pm ET Updated Sep 19, 2012

Tips for Disconnecting on Vacation

I may be imagining things, but I've noticed a pattern. More and more federal leaders I know are monitoring and responding to emails, voicemails and other communication with their staff while on vacation.

I understand the temptation. Agencies are confronting big problems. The pace of change continues accelerating. Teams are short-staffed.

That being said, the research is clear. All of us, especially leaders, must take breaks to rest, recharge and gain perspective. Yet we believe that staying connected will help our team's performance. This may sound counterintuitive, but part of the problem may be that we're not treating vacation enough like work.

If you had a major task or event coming up at work, I suspect you would develop a plan, define clear roles and responsibilities, establish milestones, block out time and then hold a debriefing after all is said and done. When it comes to vacation, we're so focused on clearing our desks that we rarely organize ourselves and our teams to operate well during the break.

If you really want to step away from your job during an upcoming summer vacation, treat the trip like work and get ready by following a few simple steps.

· Develop your plan. Because you're heading out on vacation, not retiring, a transition plan may seem a bit extreme. If, however, you want to completely unplug, you should develop a plan that outlines which individuals will perform your many roles and that provides your team members with the clarity that they will need. Identify any major events that could occur during your absence. Before you pick the best people to fill the jobs you perform, be sure to ask if they're comfortable picking up the additional work. The process should actually enhance trust among your team members.

· Set some ground rules. Have you ever been frustrated with an "urgent" phone call or email from your office while on vacation that turns out to be not so urgent after all? The one who's at fault for the interruption is probably you. When you establish ground rules but fail to share them with your colleagues, frustration and conflict are the likely result. If you really want to check out, let your team know that you trust them to deliver results and that you'll only respond to emails and voicemails upon your return. If your job regularly deals with true emergencies, you might talk about what types of issues will really warrant a conversation during the vacation.

· Stick to the plan. If you don't want your staff contacting you, shut down the lines of communication from your end. The old cliché about actions speaking louder than words is true in this case. If you say you're unplugging, but then email your team members within days of taking vacation, no one will take your ground rules seriously. Resist the natural urge (perhaps the compulsive need) to cradle your smartphone. Perhaps you can enlist a family member willing to serve as a "sponsor" anytime you feel, or they witness, that you're falling off the wagon.

· Know what it will take to return. Develop a re-engagement plan for your return. Block time on your calendar to sort through the emails, voicemails and snail mail. If your schedule allows, it may be worth coming in early that first day back to get through things before everyone stops by to ask about your vacation. It's probably worth scheduling briefings with colleagues who took on some of your responsibilities. They are likely to fill in any blanks left out by the email chains you've screened.

If you have other ideas for effectively getting away from work during vacation, please share your ideas by submitting a comment below, or by sending an email to

This post was originally featured on The Washington Post's website.