Special events planners need vacations. I just returned from mine. Not just any vacation, this was an unplugged, disconnected, off the grid, tech-free week! No smartphone, e-mail, texting, Facebook, and no television. It was time well spent. My goal was to rest from the unrelenting pressures of constant event planning and the toxic continual bad news spewed 24/7 by omnipresent media. It took me several days to gear down, but it worked. Even after a full day back in the office, I still feel refreshed.
It’s hard to get away from technology, but I found the perfect place to do so, Big Bend National Park, one of the most remote places in the U.S., a destination that is far off the beaten path and is noted for its dark night sky, rugged landscape, great hiking, and bountiful wildlife. What’s more, I went with a group of strangers, thus leaving relationship politics and behavioral expectations behind. I spent eight days being myself, deliciously “in the moment,” concentrating on just what was in front of me. It was positively therapeutic.
Everyone needs a vacation, especially special events planners. CBS News recently listed event coordinators as number six on their top ten list of most stressful jobs noting, “Arranging meetings, conventions and events of any sort requires myriad organizational and people skills that can raise just about anyone’s blood pressure.”
The fact is, most Americans don’t use their paid time off and even when we do, technology means that we are constantly checking in with the office. This is a mistake.
An interesting report by Project: Time Off called “The Tethered Vacation,” is chock full of observations and facts about why people don’t use their vacation time and the effects of pervasive technology when they do. The one I find most interesting is, “Employees who are more connected are not only taking less time off, they are also more stressed. More than half (51%) of those who check in frequently report stress in their home life, compared to 48 percent of those who check in occasionally and 36 percent who unplug on vacation.”
Bottom line: The constant interruption of smartphones and other technology actually makes us less effective, not only as worker, but in our interpersonal relationships. We all need a break, but taking one requires a commitment to yourself. Think of it this way, not using vacation means you are working for free. Event planners work many, many extra hours. Compounding that by giving back vacation time is like taking a salary reduction. Besides, giving your coworkers a break from you and refilling your creativity by immersing yourself in a different environment will yield benefits in productivity down the road. As people who devote much energy to taking care of guests and ensuring that they have a perfect experience, letting someone else take care of you is well-deserved and soothing. Vacation is an investment in yourself.
Whether or not you disconnect like I did, here are some ways to make your vacation a reality.
- Pick a date and make a deposit or purchase an airline ticket. Doing so means you are less likely to back out and also helps spread the cost over many months. Good times to get away in academia are after spring commencement, in early September after the initial rush to open a new academic year, after December commencement, anytime in January, and during spring break. Try scheduling vacation the same week that your boss will be away. It lessens the chance for “pop up” events that need last-minute attention.
- Plan to really get away. A “staycation,” that is, remaining at home, will not yield the same benefits as a complete change of scenery.
- Control your calendar. Diplomatically steer events away from your vacation week. Having a clear calendar while you are away will dramatically reduce your anxiety about being gone.
- Tell your friends, family, and colleagues that you want some down time and ask that they not contact you while away.
- Give yourself peace of mind by assembling a home based “first response team.” Arrange for friends and family to back you up to handle minor problems or field emergency calls. Designate someone to check on your elderly mom and to be the first point of contact in case of emergency. Recruit someone that the vet can call if your dog gets sick while boarding. Ask a neighbor to watch your house.
- As the date approaches, don’t remind coworkers that you will be away. Telling people as you are about to leave only encourages them to dump projects on which they’ve procrastinated onto your desk at the last moment.
- Trust your colleagues to manage events while you are off. You will have the chance to return the favor when they take their vacations.
- Remind yourself that taking a break will make you a more productive employee and energize you for events ahead.