Avoiding Vacation Induced Stress

We’ve all heard the phrase, “I need a vacation from my vacation.”  In an effort to take time off, relax and recharge, we end up creating more stress than the stress we were trying to get a break from!

How do you avoid that?  Here are my tips for taking time off in a way that doesn’t create even MORE stress in your life.

Tip #1 Defensive Calendaring

As soon as you plan your trip, block that time in your work calendar and start letting others know.  With this advance notice, important meetings and reviews can potentially be scheduled before you leave or after you return.  And when things aren’t happening without you present, there is less to catch up on when you’re back in the office.

Obviously, there will be things that just can’t move.  I always tell the people who report to me, “there’s never an ideal time to take time off, so just take it!” Set expectations with others that you will need to miss that important meeting.  And just make a plan for how you get the debrief on what went on while you were away.

Tip #2 Morning Departures 

As part of your planning, give yourself time to pack for your trip.  We’ve all attempted to hop on a plane immediately after finishing work on a Friday afternoon.  For a busy mom juggling kids and work responsibilities, I don’t think it’s worth it.

My suggestion is to leave first thing in the morning.  By doing this, you give yourself an evening to pack, do laundry and deal with the general chaos that is involved in getting yourself and your entire family ready for a trip.  An added bonus is on the morning of your departure, your only focus is getting on your way for your trip.  You are not trying to get yourself to work, your kids to school AND everyone ready to leave for a trip later that same day.

Tip #3 The One Week Countdown

The week before I leave for a trip, I’m looking ahead to the next week and getting ahead on things that may be due that week such as status reports, reviews or preparation and coaching that the people that report to me might need while I’m gone.  I also start cancelling meetings for the period of time when I’m gone.  By waiting until the week prior, it’s a gentle reminder for everyone that meets with you.  I also find delegates to cover things while I’m away.  If you are a manager, this is a great opportunity to give other people on your team opportunities to step up.

Last, I send an email to everyone that will be impacted by my absence reminding them that I’ll be gone and suggesting that if they need anything from me next week, they need to see me THIS week.  I also put reminders on Skype and Slack and direct others to the delegates for each of the areas I’m responsible for so others know who to go to for questions in my absence.


Sound like overkill?  Perhaps, but I get lots of positive comments from people thanking me for reminding them.  I also notice that my time off is VERY quiet while I’m away.  My email volumes are lower and Skype and Slack are mostly keeping me in the loop as opposed to a pile of direct messages.  Since people know and remember you are away, they either got what they needed before you left or they are waiting for you to return.

Tip #4 Early Return

The same people who leave for the airport immediately after their last day of work often return either very late the night prior or in the morning before they need to head into work.  In my humble opinion, this makes for a very difficult first week back at work after taking time off, especially if you’ve traveled across time zones.

I suggest arriving back at least a day ahead of your first day back to work.  By giving yourself time to get laundry done, do your grocery shopping and meal preparations done, you are genuinely ready to start back to work and not have a ton of extra work piled on top because you didn’t get your typical weekend preparations or chores done.

An early return also helps kids settle down so they are rested and ready to go back to school where they can also be more productive and engaged.

Are you cutting your vacation short? Not if you insert something special into this day of chores such as a nice meal out or a family movie night with your kids.


By building in preparation and recovery time into your vacation plans, you can genuinely enjoy your time off and avoid creating a bunch of chaos that you need to recover from when you return.  It’s so important to unplug and take time away from the day to day.  You just don’t need to kill yourself in the process!

Bring All of Your Calendars into One Place

Do you find yourself having too many calendars?  There’s your work calendar, your family calendar, and maybe even a personal calendar.  Even if you’ve got all of these calendars in electronic form, you can still find yourself in a situation where you need to check in multiple places to make sure you’re free.  And with multiple places to look, mistakes are bound to happen.

It’s pretty easy to bring all of your calendars together on any mobile phone, but it’s hard to see and plan from such a small screen.  Depending on how strict your workplace is, it may be harder to bring all of your calendars together at work.  I just started a job at a company that takes security around personal laptops very seriously.  I can’t install any old app or plug in onto my computer.  When it came to my calendar, this was leaving me very frustrated because I wasn’t allowed to add my personal account to Outlook.  If you’re in the same boat, here’s how you can easily get around this problem.

I’ve got a family calendar in Cozi.  And a personal calendar in Hotmail (Outlook.com). In my case, as I was trying to coordinate my work schedule against something as simple as attending my son’s basketball game or making sure I left work on time for an evening school meeting, I had to check my work calendar, Cozi.com and Outlook.com.  That was just too much for my brain to keep track of in 3 different views.

We’re using Outlook at work.  We happen to be using the 2010 version but what I’m about to describe also works in 2013 or Office 365. From most calendar programs, Google, Outlook.com, Cozi, you can share your calendar as a calendar “feed” or as a link.  This generates a URL that you can use to access this “calendar feed”.

From inside Outlook, under the home tab, choose “Open Calendar”, then choose “From Internet”.

Outlook Open From Internet
Outlook Import Calendar Feed Menu

After this, you’ll get a dialog box that lets you copy the URL you got from your other calendar program.  Once you paste that in, that calendar will be added to your calendar list.  In my case, I’ve got my personal calendar that I named “Doreen Hotmail” and my family calendar from Cozi.

Outlook Calendar List
Outlook Calendar List including Hotmail Calendar

Now, you can see all of your calendars overlay-ed with one another.  This helps you keep from double-booking yourself and helps you more easily manage family commitments against your work commitments.  The best part is that you can keep your work calendar as the “active” calendar and the other calendars really appear to be sitting in the background, not distracting you but helping you avoid creating conflicts across work and home.

Outlook Multiple Calendar View
Multiple Calendars Overlay-ed in Outlook 2010

Note:  I’ve shaded out the names of my kids and co-workers to protect their privacy

How To Set Up A Calendar for a Busy Family

If you’ve got kids who are involved in after school activities, this blog post is for you.  If you’re a Stay-At-Home-Parent, you’re trying to coordinate everything and make sure the kids are where they need to be.  And you want them getting picked up and dropped off on time.  If you’re a working parent, you’re trying to coordinate all of this with your child care provider.

Our family had a busy week this week.  It was the first week of track practice for my 13 year old son in the 7th grade AND it was the first week of rehearsals for the school play for my 9 year old daughter in the 4th grade.  I faced the week with great trepidation.  Looking at my calendar, I think you’ll see why:


To try and tame the chaos, I color coded my son’s activities in red and my daughter’s in blue.  I told my sitter, “Let’s just plan to text each other a lot to get through this first week on this crazy schedule.”  On Wednesday, I had the pick up time for Play Rehearsals wrong.  And my sitter was having a really hard time understanding all of this when looking at it on her iPhone.

My son has Autism, so it’s particularly important that he understands the schedule using the visuals of a calendar.  When I got this text message from him on Wednesday night while he was with his Dad, I knew I needed to do something to make this calendar easier to understand:


Looking at the calendar, I had everything crammed into ONE calendar.  I had more details than were really needed.  Too many things were overlapping each other.  I needed to simplify the calendar.  My babysitter needed to understand when to pick the kids up and where.  My son needed to understand his own schedule, know when he was getting picked up, and not have his sister’s activities cluttering up what he was looking at.  He needed to see what HE cares about.

What to do?

I created a separate calendar for my son.  It’s under his Outlook.com account, but I set things up so that I can edit it directly while using my own account.  I also set up an account for my daughter while I was at it.  Next, I got rid of the overlap by moving my son’s track stuff into his calendar, my daughter stuff into her calendar, and then focused the family calendar on pick ups and drop offs.  The new version is much better:


Notice the tabs across the top.  Each tab represents a different calendar in a different color.  You can show multiple calendars at once.  And when you turn off my daughter’s calendar, it was a much clearer picture for my son.  We sat down and reviewed the schedule again.  Here’s what he is seeing on his iPhone now:


And here’s what the babysitter was looking at (on a Windows Phone), because my son’s calendar is NOT in view:


I’m hoping that the schedule will be more clear.  Everyone will be happier.  And I won’t be distracted with lots of text message from a frustrated babysitter who can’t figure out where I need her to be because I haven’t set her up for success.  Yes, we’re using multiple calendars and sharing them.  It may sound complicated at first but once it’s set up, you’ll wonder how you ever functioned any other way.

For those of you interested in some of the nitty-gritty details, keep reading.  For the rest of you, happy scheduling!

Some details for me to explain:

What is “Juanita House”?  We are in a split family.  Since the kids have 2 homes, “home” isn’t clear.  I call my house “The Juanita House” so they know where they need to be.  I don’t want to call it “Mom’s House” or “Mom and Jeff’s House” because it is “Our House”.  Dad didn’t name his house (because he’s functioning like a normal person 😉 ) so we just call his house “Dad’s House”.

Who are all of these people?  Dad is Dad.  Jeff is my husband.  Marie is the afternoon babysitter.  Lauren is my son’s ABA therapist (Autism services aide).  When I set up appointments with Lauren, I actually email those to her so they are on her calendar.  Dad also has the appointments for “which house” on his calendar as well as anything that is on the days when the kids are with him at the end of the day.  There’s a lot going on here but this way, everyone has what they need on THEIR calendar.

Please send me your follow up questions!  I’d be happy to do a dedicated blog post to deep dive on any questions you have.

















Time Management for Third Graders

Teaching our kids about time management is a life skill that will enable and empower them no matter what they do.  As you look at the upcoming school year, finding opportunities to focus on this can make a big difference over the course of the school year.

Last year, I got lucky in this department when the first “monthly book report assignment” came home.  Book reports can be a hassle.  It’s a long term project as far as our little third graders are concerned.  And for a working parent, it can be a big stressor throughout the entire month as we try to help our kids not only remember, but to get the work done.

With my daughter, I decided to turn this into a chance to teach her about time (and project) management.  And with a 9 month school year, that would be a lot of opportunities in a row to figure this out.  The incentive:  if, by the end of the year, she was doing the entire book report on her own, in addition to her other household chores, she could get her ears pierced for her 9th birthday.

Here’s the summary of how we went from me helping with the whole thing to getting her independent by the end of the school year.

September:  I helped her pick the book and needed to remind her each day to get the reading done and then get the writing and art assignment done.  That was a lot of work!  And our afternoon babysitter was the main person working with her in the afternoon.

October:  Based on how things went in September, we knew about how many pages she could read in 15 minutes.  We chose a book that we estimated she could finish in 2 weeks.  We set a date for finishing the book and from there, we worked together to get all of the written and art assignments done.

November:  This month, we made a list of all the days she could work on her assignment and worked backwards from the due date to figure out all of the work she would do each day.  If she got behind on her schedule she’d need to make up those days on a Friday.  (We set up the schedule so she could avoid doing any homework on Fridays.)

December:  She got the month off. 🙂

January:  We put a whiteboard calendar up in her room. From October and November, we figured out that there were certain days where it was hard to make progress.  Her brother had a social skills group on Wednesdays to attend and she had reading tutoring (for her dyslexia which slows down her ability to read fluently) on Thursdays.  We added those appointments to the calendar and we did the “work back plan” together.  She read every day but worked on the written and art assignments on Mondays and Tuesdays with an occasional Friday.

February:  She tried to create her schedule all by herself.  This was difficult but she learned from the process.  After she did the first draft, we worked together to make sure it was set for the month.  By now, she was getting the daily tasks done on her own because she knew how to follow the schedule.  Only a few reminders were needed from me and the afternoon babysitter.

March:  Another month like February.  We’re on a roll.

April:  Wild card– Spring Break with a catch.  Her dad took her out of school for a few extra days around Spring Break.  She needed to work over one weekend and every Friday to meet the due date.  She was NOT happy but it drove a great conversation about balancing fun and work.  She got a few extra days of vacation and had a great time with her dad.  To balance out that fun, she needed to do a little extra work over one weekend.  This is how life can be juggling a full time job – and it’s a great lesson to learn early on.

May:  She was totally on her own with just a final review of the schedule.  I asked the babysitter to NOT remind her at all and I was going to casually ask her about progress over dinner.  I was a bit stressed this month.  I wasn’t sure if she would get it turned in on time.  But it’s the 3rd grade.  If she was going to miss a deadline, I’d rather her experience that earlier than later.  She came through.

Turning monthly book reports into an opportunity for her to really take ownership of her homework really made a difference in my daughter’s school year.  As she became more responsible for the work, her confidence grew.  She got good grades on her assignments.  And when she got a 3 out of 4 instead of a 4 out of 4 on any particular aspect, we’d talk about why we thought she got that score and what she could do next time to try and earn a 4.  It was a forward looking exercise, not spending too much time lamenting something we couldn’t change from the last one.

As I look ahead to the next school year, I’m excited to see what the NEXT opportunity will be to help her become more independent in her school work, and see her confidence build even more.  And yes, last weekend was her birthday.  She got her ears pierced and is already taking charge of the responsibility of cleaning them and following the directions she was given to take care of them.  So proud!