Smart Things to Do at Work Before Vacation

Out of Office written on a sandy beach

You’ve started the countdown and soon you’ll be free of impending deadlines, long hours at the office, and rapidly expanding to-do lists.

But wait! Before you leave on vacation, you need to make sure you don’t come back to a mess. There are things to do at work before vacation and you need to do them. These tips will keep your career in good standing and save your sanity (not to mention everyone else’s). Heed them well.

Spread the Word

Be up front with your colleagues about when you won’t be available, and why. Set expectations early and they don’t feel abandoned while you’re away. At the beginning of a project, let people know your vacation plans.

A day or two before you leave, send an email to colleagues and project teams to remind them of your impending absence. This is when things get real, so expect a barrage of last-minute questions.


Business continues while you’re away which is why someone will need to cover for you. While you’re away you need to delegate your authority, especially your signing authority. Whether you choose your delegate yourself or your boss chooses for you, it’s important to prepare this person properly. One of the most important things to do at work before vacation is include your delegate in your email communications, meetings, and calls.

It’s not a bad idea to schedule a one-on-one meeting to make sure your delegate understands what to expect while you’re away. Things like project status, deadlines, needy clients, and approvals requiring signature.

This is also the time to let them in on potential problems and details only you know. To stand behind the decisions made while you’re away, give your delegate inside info so he or she can make good decisions. You’ll both appreciate it.


No matter how busy you are, only a few things are truly important and urgent. You need to make sure they’re at the top of your list.

What list? The list you’re going to make of your work tasks a week before vacation. Prioritizing things to do at work before vacation helps you decide what to spend your last in-office moments on. Make a list of tasks that you do at your job (if you’re smart at work, you’re already doing this). Take a good look at your list and decide which are important, which are urgent, and which are both. Start crossing these things off first.

Be realistic

Question: how many tasks can you complete before you leave on vacation? Answer: not as many as you think. If you’re too ambitious, you’ll be haunted by everything you didn’t do before you left.

When scheduling all your final before-vacation meetings and conference calls, be sure to keep an eye on anything new that comes up. Taking on new responsibilities is not something you should do at work before vacation. This is the time to push back and suggest scheduling a meeting when you return.

Take care of admin

It might seem trivial, but before vacation I recommend you clean your desk. Not the inside, don’t be outrageous! Clear off the top of your desk and get your papers filed (easier said than done). I recommend cleaning your desk for the last 10 minutes of your day starting a few days before you leave on vacation. If you the spread the task out this way, you won’t have to cram it into your last day of work (impossible I tell you).

On my vacations I am inaccessible. I make sure that everyone knows I will not be answering no matter what number they call or how many emails they send (even if it has a little red exclamation mark). You need to decide whether you will be accessible or inaccessible and make it very clear. Very. Clear. If you say you’re not going to reply to emails, do NOT reply. If you do, you’ve opened the floodgates. Consider yourself warned.

Set your voicemail, your email, your cell phone, and everything else to tell people you’re away. In your voicemail message try asking people NOT to leave a message. Let callers know that if they want to speak to you, you can be reached when you return. This will prevent you having to go through a pile of outdated messages when you’re back in the office. It also sets expectations for your callers, who (let’s face it) don’t actually listen to messages and won’t remember when you’ll be back. If you ask them not to leave a message, hopefully they’ll solve their problem another way.

Things to do at work before vacation with timelines

2 months before

  • Confirm your vacation request approval – You should have asked for your vacation by now
  • Book your vacation in Outlook and invite your boss – Be sure to book your boss’ time as ‘free’ or else you just invited your boss on vacation with you
  • Mark your vacation on your wall or desk calendar

1 month before

  • Send reminder email to boss

2 weeks before

  • Notify colleagues and project teams about vacation – In meetings, by phone, or email
  • Confirm who your delegate will be while you’re away – You may get to choose your delegate or your boss may choose. Lock it in.

1 week before

  • Make a list of tasks to complete – Make sure you indicate important and urgent tasks, and also which can be handled by your delegate while you’re gone
  • Meet with your delegate one-on-one – Your delegate should understand what’s expected while you’re away and be aware of potential problems
  • Invite your delegate to meetings and cc on emails
  • Clean off your desk – Start this task for a few minutes at the end of every day until your last day before vacation

Last day at work

  • Set voicemail – On cell phone and desk phone
  • Set out-of-office email response – Include contact information for your delegate
  • Sticky note for your monitor
  • Sticky note for your desk
  • Lock your desk/door – Prevent office pranks. At least some of them.
  • Work laptop, power source, etc. – If you’re working while you’re away don’t forget everything you need

In the last few days of your vacation have you ever started thinking about all the things you have to do when you get back to work? The people you have to call, the meetings you have to set up, the reports you have to deliver… Now that you’ve mastered things to do at work before vacation, you won’t have that awful sinking feeling during your time off. You’ll come back to work happy and refreshed: the way you should feel after a break.


When you’ll telling everyone how great your vacation was, be careful what you say. Check out Stop Being a Jerk: 5 Rules for Talking About Your Travel and keep your friends interested in your adventures.

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