How Project Managers Take a Vacation
When you’re managing one or more large-scale projects involving many people and moving parts,
it might feel like there is no way you can take even one day off. And a full vacation? No way!
Many Project Managers have a hard time feeling like they can be out of touch for a good one-
or two-week vacation. Who would track progress? Update stakeholders? Ensure projects stay on
time and budget? It is easy for Project Managers to feel indispensable and that no one else
could keep all the trains running on time like they can.
Even if it seems impossible, vacations are necessary. The time to unplug and decompress is
essential for good mental health. Quality time with your family cannot be traded or done,
“later”. Spending time thinking about something else—or nothing at all—can reenergize a stale
mind and bring new juices to your job when you get back. For these reasons and more, vacations
are an extremely necessary part of a quality work life.
But how to make it happen without feeling more stressed and anxious while you’re ON vacation
than not having gone at all? Like everything else in
it takes some planning. Here are some ideas for setting yourself up to go on vacation without
creating more headaches than it fixes.
Step One: Figure out your backup
Sure every company has an org chart and there is a reporting structure. But that doesn’t by
default identify who could or should step into your shoes while you’re away. This may not be
your supervisor or the person on your team who has been there the longest. But there is always
someone who knows your role and what you do well enough to fill in while you are out. And make
that decision far enough in advance to have time to talk through what they may not know.
Step Two: Prepare your backup
You never want to leave your coworker in a situation they aren’t prepared for. Plus, you don’t
want to come back to a nightmare because you left someone in charge who wasn’t up to the task.
Make sure your backup knows everything about your projects and what is likely to come up in your
absence. Also make sure they have access to all the information they will need including passwords
and logins. Make sure they know how to get in touch with you in case of an emergency. You’ll be
setting them up for success and likely be able to count on them for the next time you need a break!
Step Three: Finish as much as you can.
If there are tasks you can clear up before you leave, finish them. Don’t leave them for your
backup if they are easy to get out them off your plate. This way you know they’ve been done how
you want and there is less that can go wrong while you’re gone. If there are items with due dates
that will come up while you’re gone, consider renegotiating the due dates.
Step Four: Deal with the Paperwork
If you are normally a bit cluttered in your work life, try and clean up your space before you
leave. While your system may work for you, someone needing to find something in your absence
might have a different opinion. File papers, organize project information. Deal with outstanding
bills and invoices that might come due while you are away.
Step Five: Set Expectations
Make sure your coworkers know you’ll be gone. And how much you will or won’t be answering calls,
emails, texts during that time. What to reach you about and what not to. One person’s crisis isn’t
always that urgent for another. Ensuring that the communication lines are established ahead of time
will make your absence easier for everyone.
Now that you know what should happen to get you that great vacation, let’s talk timeline. You can’t
pick a backup, drop a load of information on them and then scoot out two days later. A successful
vacation takes some groundwork. Here’s a suggested timeline for ensuring you have plenty of time
to get everything done well.
4-6 Months before: Schedule your dates
It might seem like a long time out to get the ball rolling but consider this rationale. If you
can look at your project’s timeline and schedule time off for right after a big deliverable is
completely, you’ll feel more comfortable taking the time. And all the planning that needs to
take place can happen easily and without stress.
1 Month before: Start working with your backup
Give your backup the time and resources to get it right as we have discussed. Could they shadow
you? Sit in on some meetings? Any way you can make the transition and streamline the handoff will
benefit both of you.
Two Weeks before: Check in with Your Staff
This could be anything from a special team meeting or even better 1:1 talks. Letting staff know
your expectations in your absence and giving them the time to ask questions will go a long way
toward everyone having an easy time during your holiday. Especially you!
The last best piece of advice is to plan your vacation like a project manager. Put your project
manager skills to work. This will make sure you get the most out of your time off. Below are some
ideas for how to make this work.
Treat your Family like Stakeholders
The worst vacations are the ones where no one has fun, right? So why organize a trip that no
one wants to do. Understanding your family’s needs, how they want to communicate and interact
on vacation will make sure everyone—especially you—has a good time. If this vacation includes
extended family, create communication vehicles so that everyone is on the same page. Nothing
will ruin a vacation faster than poor planning and not meeting expectations.
Create a Timeline
Some people hate being told where to go and when while they’re on vacation. They want the
freedom to plan on a day-to-day basis and do a ton of activities or no activities at all.
But others need that structure and comfort of knowing what’s coming from one day to the next.
Understanding your family and what balance needs to be struck will make sure everyone has a
great time. Make sure you’re doing the right amount of planning for your crowd.
What’s the purpose of this trip? Pure relaxation, education or visiting others? Knowing what
you want to get out of your trip will make the trip itself that much more enjoyable. If you
really want just to chill and relax but you end up at museum after museum walking miles a day,
then you aren’t going to get what you need. Make sure everyone has communicated their desires
and the vacation meets all the goals as much as possible.
Add a Buffer
Whatever kind of vacation you plan, make sure you allow some time for travel, relaxation and
plans that may change unexpectedly. Particularly if you’re looking for a more restful vacation
experience. There is no reason to schedule everything so that your vacation is so packed you
have no room for error. This is just destined to end up with a problem that will make everyone
As explained before, making sure that everyone is on the same page for what your vacation will
be is essential to overall enjoyment. Thinking everyone wants to do the same thing every minute
of the day is hardly every going to work. Checking the weather and potential road construction
so that you don’t get disappointed is an easy way to ensure success.
You can go on vacation. You can get away with just a little advanced planning. And once you
decide to go, project managing your vacation will guarantee a relaxing, enjoyable time for