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Reducing "Out of Office" Anxiety

Since entering the professional world, I think the longest time I’ve been away from work has been two weeks for my honeymoon—and it included a week when the office was closed anyway. I’m a big fan of shutting off work when I’m on vacation; even though I’m a zero unread messages in my inbox type of person, it’s nice to reset and step away. Plus, a week or two of emails isn’t a huge deal for catching up.
But 12 weeks of maternity leave is an entirely different animal. I’m not really sure what to expect in preparing to be out—and really out, since I hear infant care is somewhat all consuming to the point where people feel like they can’t bathe—for three months, or how to come back, especially in communications and media relations.
This field is all about timing, getting ahead of the latest trends and choosing the opportune moment to send a story into the world. That’s tricky even when you’re in the office every day, since the news is nonstop. It’s been really worrisome to think about the thousands of unread emails and millions of missed tweets waiting upon my return, but it’s also not possible for me to think of trying to incorporate work into a time dedicated to recovering, bonding with my baby, and establishing my new parenting role.
So how exactly do you walk away from work for 12 weeks? I’m relying on really strong team support and the Scout’s motto, “always be prepared.” Here’s what I’ve done to prepare, and a week away from my due date, I’m feeling pretty great about the plan:

  • Create a document of on-going tasks and projects. This was a no-brainer for me. It was a great way for me to organize all of the things I’ve been working on and think about what longer-term responsibilities needed to be handed off to someone else. And actually talking through it with the team was helpful.
  • Have fantastic coworkers. I cannot emphasize how crucial this part of the plan is for me. I’m not worried about anything falling through the cracks because my team is super on top of their stuff. I’m hoping to use their awesomeness as a resource when I return, too, to ensure that I get caught up after my three-month hiatus.
  • Volunteer to be the last-minute support person. This has been a great way for me to stay involved with—and somewhat useful to—my team without overcommitting myself as some long-term projects have been winding down. Need any final editing? Time-sensitive pitches? Media lists for later today? I’m your girl.
  • Establish strong out-of-office communications. And by this, I mean that it was important for me to have a go-to person AND a back up contact for people to connect with. Additionally, letting clients and outside partners know in advance which of my lovely coworkers they will be communicating with has been helpful.
  • Plan a go-time strategy. Since I don’t have an exact time that I’m going on leave, basically this is my baby bat signal—well, a jack-o-lantern emoji on Slack, coupled with a pre-written out-of-office response and a link to a photo-sharing site.
  • Disable alerts in advance. I cannot recommend this highly enough. I’ve been slowly disabling my phone and computer alerts to wean me off of instant acknowledgment and response. It’s really helped me to slow down, especially after hours and over the weekend.
  • Don’t worry about it. At the end of the day, I think my leave will be quite occupied by my daughter’s needs, and stressing about all that I’m missing at work won’t do either of us any good. Though perhaps easier said than done, this is a cornerstone of my plan for success. I’ve prepared as much as I can, and now I need to adjust my focus and mindset.

As for how to actually go on leave and come back without drowning in the catch up work, stay tuned for an update in early 2016—spoiler alert, I think it may involve more support from my trusty team.