5 Steps To Prevent Vacation Disaster

These dreaded words. “I know you’re on vacation, but...”

  • this will only take five minutes
  • I just need a quick “yes” or “no”
  • this would really help me out
  • the client only wants to talk to you 

We don’t know when, or from where. But they are coming. That’s for sure. 

Heads I Do, Tails I Don’t

This is the “Summer Dilemma.” You can’t wait to “unplug” and get to the beach, but you’re packing your laptop, your iPad, your phone, and a bag full of chargers. You’ve posted an out-of-office message, but told colleagues you’re reachable by text. You’re ready to unwind and reconnect with your family, but you have a few last things to finish. You tell them “it will just take an hour,” but you all know that’s not true.

What’s going on here? And what can you do about it?

The Summer Dilemma is a hallmark of professional life today. It traps us in a choice between two possibilities, neither of which is entirely acceptable. Earlier this summer I tried to juggle all the balls in the air ― a little resting here, a little email there. I kept up with the most important things at work. But I also left my family waiting at the Empire State Building for nearly an hour. 

After that debacle, I doubled-down on my commitment to protect vacation time. Then yesterday I learned I’d dropped the ball with my cherished colleagues. In my vigilance to put work out of my mind, I failed to close the loop with them about a change in my travel plans, and as a result I can’t join our upcoming gathering. Now I feel terrible that I didn’t let them know earlier.

What Can We Do? 

With all that on my mind, I started the day with the sinking sense that “I’m damned if I do, I’m damned if I don’t.”

Then at breakfast an article in the paper caught my eye. The headline in USA Today reads, “Many Companies Force Workers to Use Time Off.” It says that “many people refuse to stop checking work emails and phone calls during leisure time, whether they’re in the stands at their kids’ baseball games or lying with their feet propped up beside a lake, clinging to mobile devices that allow them to work from almost anywhere.” Needless to say, I recognized the problem. 

Here’s what I realized. There’s no one answer that makes the Summer Dilemma magically disappear. However, there is a way through it that helps each one of us to resolve it for ourselves. You can make peace with your own answer if you negotiate with yourself before you decide. Here are 5 pieces of my best advice for doing that. 

My Best Advice: Negotiate with Yourself First

Before you get in the car or board the plane, negotiate with yourself to address the Summer Dilemma. Here’s how:

1) Recognize that different parts of you want different things. You might feel torn because you really do want a vacation, but you also really want to get work done. How can that be? Which is the real you? It helps to appreciate that both of these impulses are you ― they’re different sides of you. Your “personal” self wants a break, and your “professional” self wants to keep working. That’s totally normal. We all have different sides to us.

2) Separate different voices from each other. The next step is to sort through the different sides of you, so you can hear what each one wants to say. Until you do that, it’s just a tense blur of noise inside your head. You can sort them by picturing the conflict you feel as a debate, with independent debaters. Another image that works well is to see this as one big negotiation, and the different sides of you are “inner negotiators.” 

3) Give each debater, or negotiator, a role. The next step toward clarity is to give each main voice a role, or identity. If one part of you is urging you to focus on your kids and enjoy family time, you can call that inner debater Good Parent (or whatever terms and roles suit you.) If another side of you dearly wants to get back in shape and use this holiday to kick-start daily runs, you can call that inner negotiator The Runner. If you’re not sure where to begin, I teach people to start with their Big Four inner voices: the Thinker, the Lover, the Warrior, and the Dreamer. 

The key task for now is to name each inner negotiator. It will get easier to measure trade-offs when each argument comes from an identifiable character. For the Summer Dilemma, identify at least one inner negotiator for your professional self (The Project Manager, Entrepreneur, Research Assistant) and at least one for your personal self (The Scuba Diver, The Homemaker, The Soccer Coach). What are the main roles competing in your mind right now, and what name can you give to each one?

4) Consider all of the opinions when you decide. Competitive teams thrive under the leadership of their captain. Olympian Simone Biles just gave a series of remarkable performances in Rio, placing her among the best gymnasts of all time. Yet even Biles, along with the other members of Team USA, chose Aly Raisman to lead them as Team Captain. Now, in this step of the inner negotiation, you step into the role of Captain of Team You. 

As Captain, you listen to each inner negotiator, but don’t identify with any of them. It’s the Captain’s job to hear what each one has to say, and help them hear one another. If the inner negotiators can’t reach an agreement, then you, as the Captain, consider each negotiator’s perspective and make a decision for the all-around best outcome.

If you don’t step into the role of Captain, the loudest member of the team will win, and the other inner negotiators might undermine your decision later. But if you hear everything your inner negotiators have to say, your Captain can earn their trust and make a good decision balancing all of your competing interests.

5) Give yourself a break.

I still regret making my family wait at the Empire State Building, and I also regret dropping the ball with my colleagues. The nature of the Summer Dilemma is that you can’t meet all of your own interests perfectly. So remember to be kind to yourself during these negotiations, and then be kind to yourself afterward if things don’t go precisely as planned.

Share in the comments - What has worked or not worked for you in facing the Summer Dilemma? What comes up in your Internal Negotiations?

And enjoy your vacation!

Erica Ariel Fox is pioneering the discipline of “Creative Human Disruption.” Her first book, Winning From Within, is a New York Times best-seller, and lays out the core principles of her model. She is working on her second book, Lead Yourself First, which details the practices leaders need for continuous self-development. She advises CEOs and top teams with her partners at Mobius Executive Leadership, and she teaches negotiation at Harvard Law School.

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