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You can alleviate the stress and panic that can accompany pre-vacation planning by creating a list of tasks and issues that need to be managed when you're not there, then checking off each item as it's handled. This systematic planning enables you to leave for vacation with a clear conscience and get some well-deserved R&R.
At the very minimum, you'll need someone in your organization to cover for you while you're out. If you have no employees, a professional colleague can stand in as backup support for client or customer emergencies.
Make a project list
Do a complete inventory of recently completed projects, current work, and upcoming assignments. For each item on your list create another list of all possible issues that could arise while you are away. Plan for each of these developments. Be sure not to overlook recently completed projects. Work that you have "put to bed" can often generate client or customer inquiries in the weeks following.
Do worst-case planning
Come up with a list of possible scenarios on current projects and brief internal staff or colleagues. A little bit of Murphy's Law planning can prepare everyone for the things that will undoubtedly go wrong. What are the chief concerns for each client? What's the worst thing that can happen with each account? This kind of planning means that clients will be speaking with someone who understands their concerns should a problem arise. For example, your notes on a particular project might say, "If Mrs. Green calls, her concerns are likely to be about x and y. The last time we completed a project like this we had difficulty in the following areas."
Brief key clients or customers
Don't let your lengthy absence come as a surprise to clients. Give them some notice about your absence -- a minimum of two to three weeks, preferably longer. Let them know how long you'll be away, who they should contact in your absence, how they can contact this person (phone and fax numbers, and email address), and what how this person will be able to help them. Communicate your confidence in the ability of staff or a stand-in to help them should a problem arise. If they're dealing with someone new in your organization, arrange for both parties to speak before you go away. It's important that your clients feel comfortable with the arrangements you've made.
Plan for all incoming communications
Make sure you're prepared to handle your voicemail, email, and incoming faxes.
Voicemail: If someone else in your office is handling your workload, put their extension or phone number in your outgoing message so your callers will be able to reach a real person who can respond to their needs. If you aren't referring callers to someone else, script a reassuring message that lets clients know when you will return and how they can get what they need in the meantime.
Email: Check with your ISP to see if they offer Auto Respond, a service that sends an automatic reply to anyone who emails while you're away. Like your voicemail, your reply message should indicate how long you'll be out of the office, and who people can contact if their message requires immediate attention. If you don't have this option, be sure to have someone check your mailbox regularly and deal with any messages that need a direct response.
Faxes: Have someone in your office collect, read, and traffic faxes so that no pressing issues slip through the cracks. You may want to have someone in your office forward your faxes to a local fax number so you can collect them yourself while you're away. Back to list
Replenish supplies and petty cash
If you'll be leaving staff or co-workers behind, make sure they have enough office supplies to continue working in your absence. Check the petty cash supply and make sure it's adequate, or leave a signed check for that purpose.
Pay bills, sign checks
Check the due date on your regular payments for rent, utilities, supplies and so forth. If you don't want to pay them ahead of time, write out the checks and entrust someone with the job of mailing them on the appropriate dates. Don't let accounts become past due just because you've gone on vacation.
Leave emergency contact information
Make sure those people still in the office won't be stranded if they run into technical or maintenance problems in your absence. What happens if a drain backs up or the boiler blows? Leave the phone number of your building's electrician, plumber, and other maintenance people. Don't forget about your computers or phone network. Make sure there's contact information for those repair people or consultants as well.
Double-check the little things
Don't forget about housekeeping and security measures. Write down all the chores you take care of in your office without even thinking about it. Are you the person who routinely pulls the shades in the late afternoon to keep the equipment from overheating? Are you the one who puts toilet paper in the employee's rest room? Think of all those small jobs and make sure they get done while you're gone. If you're the one who closes up at night, make sure someone else knows the procedure for securing the building.
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