Taking time off as an assistant can sometimes feel like more trouble than it’s worth. While you need time to recharge and not think about work just like anyone, when you serve as a facilitator for someone else’s job, it’s not so simple.
You may have experienced working late the days leading up to your time off to “get it all done” ahead of time, being pinged on vacation with urgent questions, or coming back to many fires which need extinguishing. Any of these experiences are enough to make you think twice before submitting your next OOO request.
However, there ARE things you can do to mitigate some of these scenarios and make your time away as seamless as possible for both you and the leader you support.
Communicate along the way
As soon as you know you will be taking time off, send a request to your leader. Once approved, notify anyone else who may be impacted by your absence. Put your OOO time on your calendar, your leader’s calendar, and a team calendar if your company has one.
As you have your 1:1s and correspondence with your leader leading up to the time, be sure to remind them when applicable that you’ll be out, while reassuring them of what you’re going to complete before you go, etc.
You can also set your Slack or Teams status a few days in advance with “FYI, I’ll be OOO MM/DD-MM/DD” to remind team members of your upcoming absence to ensure anything urgent gets handled before you go.
Another best practice is to block a few hours on your last day in office, utilizing the time to wrap up before you leave. This way you’ll have a dedicated block of time to tie up loose ends like replying to unanswered emails and setting up your auto-responder. Even if you’ve already finished those, this best practice will allow you to start unwinding sooner!
Pre-complete or delegate your work
Once your leader knows you will be out of office, you’ll need to identify what can wait for your return, what you need to prepare in advance, or what you may delegate while you’re away. Then you’ll have to communicate those responsibilities and expectations.
Questions to ask yourself when considering what to prepare in advance or delegate:
• What can I do exclusively?
• What is time-sensitive?
• What is recurring that needs to continue (ie. approving time cards)?
Once you identify what tasks and responsibilities need to be completed while you’re out and have identified if you can do them ahead of time or if you can automate them (scheduling emails or slack/teams messages is great for this), be sure to send a summary to your leader with a detailed overview of everything they may need while you’re out.
Creating this summary and making sure it’s as comprehensive as possible will nearly ensure there is no reason to contact you while you’re OOO. Share it a couple days in advance so your leader has time to ask questions and you can tie up loose ends together. This will help you feel like you can actually set work down for a bit while you’re out.
This can be sent via email or in a document with links
Subject/Title: While I’m Out MM.DD-MM.DD
Hi [exec]! I created this summary to be your go-to reference for while I’m out of office [next week, over the holidays, etc.]
- If you need anything while I’m out, you can check in with [name].
- If you would like to send tasks/reminders to me, Slack/Teams is best so I can aggregate them all and not lose them in multiple email threads.
- For any non-urgent scheduling needs, I’ve created a canned response [include name of canned response] in your email you can use to quickly let the meeting requester know I will reach out to schedule with them upon my return.
Prepared in Advance
Include a bulleted list, pull in tasks from your task manager, whatever works best here to share everything you took care of in advance of being out, perhaps including:
- context or research for their meetings while you’re out (or if it makes more sense, include with Key Meetings and Events below)
- a list of email drafts for their meetings while you’re out (you can write these in advance and snooze them to show up at the appropriate time, or include the draft in meeting prep on their calendars)
- reminders you’ve set (you can schedule these in Slack/Teams or on their calendar)
- any scheduled messages from you for them to expect (weekly priority Qs, etc)
- you can also attach any documents they might need, etc.
Key Meetings and Events
Include any context, prep, etc. for key meetings while you’re out. Note when there is a corresponding email draft you’ve prepared (a follow up thank you email, for example). For meetings where you know there will be follow-up needed from you, consider scheduling a Decision Stream to arrive afterward, asking for your exec’s notes and needs from you.
Crafting the best OOO message
Although you might be unplugged, the rest of the world will not stop-and those emails will be flying at your inbox a mile a minute! The best way to keep contacts from thinking you’re ghosting them is to craft an awesome out of office message. Here’s a handy Do/Don’t list for how to make your away message efficient and effective:
- Keep it clear, professional, cordial, and set a boundary.
- Include a “directory” of who to contact for urgent matters-and remember to include their emails and/or phone numbers!
- Identify if you need to modify your vacation responder for internal or external contacts and adjust as needed.
- Bonus tip: See if you can exclude your leader from your OOO message. They know you are out, and don’t need the extra clutter in their inbox without you there to delete it.
- Set your automatic vacation reply to start running the evening before your OOO begins. If you’re going on vacation on Friday, set your OOO to start on Thursday after you log off for the day. This will catch anyone that emails you later in the evening so they don’t wonder what happened!
- Also set your OOO on other communication platforms like Slack or Teams.
- Consider setting your OOO responder and message to be on a day after you return, to give you time to fully catch up. You can always respond to urgent messages sooner.
- Forget to set a subject such as “Out of Office.”
- Give extensive personal details about your time off or where you are going.
- Give your personal contact information for emergencies. Inevitably someone will contact you for something that likely is not an emergency. Your leader knows how to reach you if necessary.
- Forget to actually turn it on!
Sample Out of Office Message
Thank you for your email, I am out of the office until [DATE]. I will respond to your email as soon as possible when I return.
If this is time-sensitive or urgent, please contact [NAME] at [EMAIL] or [PHONE]. Thanks!
Unplug and enjoy your time away
Lastly, and most importantly, fully unplug! Leave your work phone or laptop at home or turn it off! Having them available will create the temptation to check-in, and before you know it your brain will be switching gears to work mode. Truly unplugging during your time away is extremely beneficial for your mental wellbeing, physical health, and actually makes you more productive when you return. We are not built to work 24/7, we need true breaks from the stress of our jobs-regardless of how much we love it!
By following the tips above, you’ll confidently set yourself and your leader up to have the smoothest time possible while you’re enjoying your time off. You deserve it!