If you need to work while you’re away, give yourself a break. Sometimes, it’s unavoidable. Here’s how to take the guilt out of your trip and balance business with some well-deserved breathing space

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Ever feel the pressure to log on to your work emails when all you should be thinking about is logging off? If so, you’re not alone. According to a survey,* over 90 per cent of freelancers and micro-business owners admit to checking work-related emails and admin when they’re away. This is all the more likely in a year where many of us are 'stay-cationing'. Somehow when you haven't hopped on a plane to go on holiday, it feels a little less like you're away from work.

Working on holiday is fast becoming the norm, and it could be taking its toll on our health - unless that is, we’re able to put some healthy boundaries in place.

With Wifi and 4G networks as commonplace as an intercontinental breakfast, we’re never more than a finger swipe away from being contactable and, while great for allowing us to be on hand for an emergency, it’s a slippery slope to being back on full-blown work mode. Our well-earned holidays are essential for recharging body and mind, but for some, being completely uncontactable can cause more stress than it’s worth. Working on holiday isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but what’s key to making it all the more bearable, is making the decision of whether you’re going to or not in the first place before you leave.

“What we say is choose an approach that suits you and feels right for that specific holiday break, and then stick to it, because often it’s us not being strict with ourselves that leads to feelings of stress and confusion when we’re officially OOO,” recommend the Step Up Club’s  Alice Olins and Phanella Mayall Fine. “Be honest with yourself from the outset about your ability to shutdown or engage, and then stick to what you’ve decided. Consistency is key!”

If you do need to work, how can you ensure you have a solid break without burning out? We found out.

1. Log in only at set times

“If you want to stay connected, we’d advise that you do so in a very regimented and scheduled manner,” says the Step Up Club. “Try choosing a specific time each day (for example first thing in the morning or before dinner) that you commit to work.”

Not only will this help you to resist the temptation to check your emails every five minutes, but it will also help you make the most of your downtime by ensuring there’s a designated time where your inbox is completely off limits. In order to ensure the lines don’t get muddled, compartmentalise your tech. “Remove email and work apps from your phone, so that you can only log in consciously from your laptop or tablet,” Alice and Phanella suggest. “Apps, including email, are designed to be addictive so we often check them as a subconscious response each time we check our phones. And once you've seen an important email, it will be even more difficult not to reply or at least worry. Moral of the story: make it more difficult to check your emails, and then you’re more likely to stick to your schedule.”

2. Create a clear and confident Out of Office message

Modify the standard OOO wording to detail the times you’ll be checking in, so that those who email have realistic expectations about how speedily you’ll be able to reply. “Communicate and set boundaries,” advises master life coach, Jacqueline Hurst . “Make it clear you won’t be checking emails until X time. And then make it clear you’re confident with your decision to help others ‘get it!’ Saying ‘I’m so sorry I won’t be at work for five days’ is nowhere near as powerful as saying ‘I’m taking a well deserved holiday and will only be available for one hour at 10am if of course, it’s urgent.’ This gives a clear and confident message about what you are going to do.” Also include the details of a colleague who’ll be able to assist while you’re away too.

make it more difficult to check your emails, and then you’re more likely to stick to your schedule

3. Implement a ‘scale of urgency...’

...for dealing with any emails that come in - and be strict with it. “Literally ask yourself, ‘Is this urgent?’ or ‘Is this really important? And then quickly work through the consequences,” recommend the Step Up Club. “If you make an informed decision that yes, you need to wade in, then carve out a specific time and do it on your terms. Otherwise, if you’ve answered no to your questions, leave it for your return.”

4. Leave a phone number

In order to help field urgent enquiries, it could also be worth leaving a contact phone number in your OOO message too. This will help provide greater peace of mind should you want to go completely email-free. “Email is pathologically addictive, so if you want a decent break, offer your phone number for urgent enquiries in your OOO response, and then refrain from opening your inbox,” suggests the Step Up Club.

Going the phone rather than email route could also come in handy for filtering queries from colleagues too. “People have a much higher threshold for calling than emailing, so you’ll reduce your chances of hearing from work if you offer the emergency phone call option rather than email.”

5. Do some essential pre-travel prep

There are some valuable things that you can do before you take off to help take the pressure off being online while you’re away. “To put yourself in the best position possible for some R and R, be fastidious in how you exit: complete anything pressing, provide a clear set of handover notes, and have a proper chat with the team before you fly off,” advises the Step Up Club.

“Next, be clear with work as to how you plan to manage your time away. Remind your bosses that you’re off, and tell any key clients too, and don’t forget to reiterate how and crucially, when, they should contact you if something urgent arises. Remember, there was a time pre-email, and shock horror, before mobile phones, when a holiday meant just that: work can, in the main survive without you for a week or so. By doing all of this, you will make peace in your own mind that it’s okay to be offline for a while.”

It’s also worth doing a little email sort-out beforehand to save you being a slave to your inbox. “Decide ahead of your holiday if you have VIP clients that you need to look out for and mark their addresses as VIP so this way you don’t need to check all of your emails,” suggests executive performance coach, Dr Magdalena Bak-Maier .

6. Create a busy diary for your return

If coming back to zero work gives you a case of ‘freelancer fear,’ try to put in the legwork before you take off to get some projects in the bank and keep post-trip money woes to a minimum. “It’s easy to come back from holiday to an empty diary and then have to spend up to two weeks creating a flow of meetings to generate business,” says executive and career coach, Anna Percy-Davis . “It’s much better to create a pipeline of business before you go away so you can hit the ground running upon your return.” She also recommends having a little ‘cash cushion’ to come back to as well. “Overspending on a holiday is common and a little bit of overspending is fine if it has really helped to make it special but just make sure its not going to put you in financial difficulties, the stress of which will take away all the fabulous advantages of the holiday.”

The final word…

If you need to work on holiday, give yourself a break. If the stress of not checking in threatens to weigh on your mind, there’s no harm in checking your inbox from time to time provided you’ve got a healthy mindset about it all. “Often work can seem essential in the moment (or under duress from a pushy client or boss!) but on reflection, it can wait or be delegated,” says the Step Up Club. “Give yourself a higher than normal threshold for working on holiday: you need your break, we are humans not robots.”

*A survey of nearly 600 freelancers and micro-businesses conducted by cloud accounting platform,  FreeAgent .

Read more: The pre-holiday work checklist: 8 points to cover before you leave