Friday, 24 July 2009

Planning for Holidays

Holiday time is coming. It's nearly the end of July, the schools are breaking up and many people are about to go on holiday. Even partners in law firms, and other senior executives...

Now is the time to start planning your time on holiday. By that I mean that, with a little bit of planning, it will be possible both for you to have a relaxed holiday and for you firm to continue with "work as usual". I know that planning your time on holiday sounds both rather depressing and a bit nerdy. I am sure, however, that I can offer some advice that will help to keep you as calm as possible during your time away from the office. You will benefit, your family will benefit and your firm will benefit.

Task 1: Define an emergency
How many of us have waited until the day before our holidays to make any arrangements before rushing out of the office saying "call me if there is an emergency" to our assistant or PA or secretary? So what's an emergency? There is a danger that your office feels there is an emergency three or four times a day - or that they don't call you at all, and you return after a fortnight away to a smouldering burnt-out wreck of an office and someone saying "well, we didn't like to disturb you..."

So - have the discussion. I will assume that your assistant or PA will be in the office while you are away. I certainly hope this will be the case but if not (and why not), then make sure that there is one person who is covering for you and who will be taking messages. Discuss different scenario with them to make sure that you have broadly the same view of when they should get in touch.

I am reminded of an incident when I was interviewing prospective MBA students at London Business School. I was sharing interviewing duties with a guy and, in between interviews, his phone rang. He listened briefly before saying "Let me stop you there. When I said you could ring if it was important - I meant you could ring if it was important to me" and hung up. There was a man who was not afraid to have the discussion - but should, perhaps, have had it before leaving the office.

Task 2: Have a timetable for checking emails
I'd love to be able to say that you will be on holiday and so shouldn't check your email at all. We all know, however, that this is not an option. So - take control. Say that you will check your emails once a day in the evening (or morning or whenever) and that you will only respond to urgent problems (see above). Make sure your team know that you might deal with emails by forwarding them to your team. Above all make sure that your assistant or PA is dealing with as many emails as possible - perhaps flagging those emails that you should be looking at in the short time available. Make sure, too, that your assistant knows how to get hold of you in an emergency (see task 1 again).

Task 3: Tell your clients
I have a colleague who regularly would moan about clients calling him at all hours of the day and during his holiday. He had not, however, mentioned that he would be on holiday (and would reply to calls and emails at midnight - thereby giving the impression that it was, therefore, working time).

It's ok to have a holiday - really. So tell your clients and give them the contact details for your assistant or PA (see task 1) and tell them your timetable for checking emails. Make some time to speak with clients before you go away - and timetable some time to catch up with them when you get back. Your clients will appreciate this effort, and you will not be disturbed.

Task 4: Relax
You will be on holiday - stop thinking about work. If you find this a problem (and I often do) research some techniques to help. There are many many sites out there, but the BBC's is one of the most straight forward.

Assuming that this is a family holiday - negotiate (before you go away!) some time just for you to do the things that you love to do. Whether it is a round of golf, sea kayaking or working on your own in the garden - negotiate with your partner (and children) so that you get the time to do this. Obviously you will ensure that your partner gets the same opportunity, as do your children.

Enjoy your holiday. Pamper your partner, play with your children - and relax. You deserve it.

As a partner in the law firm, or any other kind of executive, please make sure that you have a conversation along these lines with your team. They deserve a holiday too, after all. Speak with them about contact during their holidays - and remember not to contact them unless it's an emergency (see task 1!).

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