Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

The Stupid Easy Way to Make Going on Vacation Way Less Stressful

person on boat
Corey Jenkins/Getty Images.

Going on vacation is hard work. You spend the week leading up to your time off working harder than ever to make sure everything is in order, tying up loose ends on projects, delegating or getting ahead on work that needs to be done when you’re away, and plowing through your inbox to make sure all lingering emails are responded to, all remaining questions are answered.

And then, finally, the finish line is in sight. It’s 15 minutes until you sign off, your to-dos are checked off, your inbox is empty, and you’re just about to set up your out-of-office message and let out a huge sigh of relief when, gasp, another email comes in.

The message is important, though not necessarily urgent, and will require more than a quick response. The problem is, it’s from someone who either doesn’t know or likely forgot that you’re going on vacation—and since they didn’t receive your out-of-office, they’ll probably think you’re rude for not responding in over a week.

Whether it’s one email in the last 15 minutes that you don’t have time (or mental energy) to answer or 30 that come in during the last day before you leave, this last-minute burst of added work before you finally get a break is the worst feeling. But luckily, there is a very easy solution.

Simply turn on your out-of-office message a day before you leave.

That’s right, turn it on early. It’s so easy to do, and it means that anyone sending you emails during your last day at work will have the expectation that you might not get back to them until after your vacation, making them less likely to be frustrated by your lack of response. This then gives you the power to decide which of those people actually urgently need your attention before you head out, and which can wait until later.

If you use this trick, you should keep a few things in mind. First of all, it’s probably worth letting your boss, your direct reports, or others you work closely with know that you’re going to be doing this, so they aren’t confused or panicked that you’ve left earlier than you said. If you work at an especially large organization where it isn’t feasible to let everyone know, you could even set up a special message for your last day at work that you then switch to your normal message at the end of the day. Something like:

Hi there,

As you may or may not already know, I’m leaving at the end of today to go on vacation in [location]. I have a lot of work to wrap up before I head out, so may not be able to respond to all the emails that come in today.

I will do my best to get to all urgent messages before the end of the day, otherwise, rest assured, I will respond when I return on [date you return].

[Your Name]

Either way, block out some time toward the end of your last day to peek through the messages that have come in, answering anything that only requires a quick response or that urgently needs your attention before you go and knowing that the others truly can wait until you come back relaxed and ready to get back to work.

Use a Worksheet to Help! Your Before-You-Go-on-Vacation Checklist