How to Get Work Done on Vacation

May 24, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

A couple weeks ago, I talked about how we shouldn’t work on vacation. That we should actually take the days off that are promised to us by our employers and use that time to recharge our batteries, improve our health, and increase our productivity.

But there will be times that you’re not able to shut yourself completely off while you’re on vacation. It’s not fair and it’s selfish of your employer or your clients to expect you to give up your personal time that is owed to you, but you know what? It’s fine. It’s just. . . fine. It is what it is. This is what you have to work with, so let’s figure out how to make the best of it.

Here are five ways you can continue to work while you’re on vacation even though it’s a terrible practice and your employer should be ashamed of themselves.

(Or if you’re like me and you own your own business, then this is your lot in life. But hey, at least it’s what you love to do.)

A laptop on the beach. Sometimes you may have to work on vacation, so you should at least enjoy yourself.1. Manage expectations early Let people know you’re going on vacation. Set your email auto-responder with a vacation message a week before you leave. This way, people will know you won’t be working 8 – 10 hours a day. Of course, you’ll need to get a lot of work done in advance, but that should free you up enough to only deal with the smaller tasks that pop up.

2. Get into the habit of only checking emails one or two times a day. This is something I’m still working on myself. I try to only check emails in the morning, after lunch, and before 5:00. If I spend all my time dealing with emails like electronic Whack-a-Mole, I won’t actually get any work done. I’m more productive if I only do email a few times a day than if I deal with it all the time. If people get used to me doing it this way, then I can still take the bulk of the day off and deal with things in the morning or evening.

Also, set your auto-responder months in advance to tell people that this is how you work so they don’t get frustrated that you take four hours to respond. This way, you can go out and see some sights without needing to check your email every 20 minutes or worry that you’re going to miss something important. Then, just respond to emails in the morning or at at night.

3. Put all your important documents, reports, spreadsheets in the cloud.
I use Google Drive for my cloud work because I can still access it with an iPad and Bluetooth keyboard. It may not be as fast as a laptop, but if I need to write an article or retrieve some information, I can leave my laptop at home and still function, albeit quite a bit slower. This way, I can deal with emergencies or get some work done during unexpected free time.

4. Figure out how to work with the lightest rig possible
By that, I mean learn how to work with a tablet and a Bluetooth keyboard. I do this anyway
as a backup method in case my computer dies. (I had to do it at the end of April, in fact.) But I also noticed that when I carried my laptop and keyboard, my Tpro Bold II backpack was significantly lighter than when I had my four-pound laptop in it. If you’re worried about keeping your luggage light on your next vacation, this might be a way to go. Plus it keeps your laptop safe at home where it’s not at risk of getting stolen or hacked on a rogue wifi system.

5. See if you can take a longer vacation in exchange for working
Try is to extend your vacation in exchange for being able to work while you’re on it. This could be a compromise with your employer or with your family — I made them a deal that we could take two-week vacations to Florida if I could work a couple days each week, and even a couple hours early in the morning.

We did that for three years before we finally moved here, and it was a nice little arrangement. I worked a couple hours in the morning, a couple at night, and used our rest day to find a coffee shop and work for the day, all using the steps I described above. I still had a lot to catch up on when I got back, but it helped me deal with critical deadlines and deal with problems that arose, and I still got to enjoy some time away from home and the 8- and 10-hour workdays.

How do you work when you’re on vacation? Do you use any special tech or apps to get things done? Share your suggestions and ideas in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Wojciech Kowalski (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

Take a Proper Vacation Away From Work

May 10, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’re like most Americans, you don’t actually stop working to take a real vacation. According to a 2017 Forbes article, only 23% of us actually take all of our vacation days. The rest of us only take a little more than half of our eligible days.

And to make matters worse, two-thirds of us actually do work while we’re on vacation.

Stop doing that!

Photo of a laptop on a towel at the beach. This would be the ideal bleisure working vacation!Seriously, people. We are the hardest working, least-vacationing country in the developed world. And we’re so scared of being replaced or laid off that we don’t take the days off that are actually owed to us. Many of us are promised two weeks off of work with full pay, and we don’t take it, thus robbing ourselves of a chance to relax and unwind and enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Some people bank their vacation days so they have a cushion in case they get laid off or fired. Other people are worried that they’re too indispensable. One guy, Jake, said in the Forbes article:

I feel incredibly lucky to lead excellent and competent groups of people, but I don’t ever want to put those I manage in a position where my prolonged absence hinders their day-to-day or makes their lives more difficult.

Let me tell you, if your prolonged absence hinders your staff’s day-to-day lives, you’re a bad manager. Your job is to empower your staff and remove any barriers so they can do their best work. And if your absence hinders their day-to-day work, you haven’t actually empowered them, you’re micromanaging them, and thus, holding them back.

It’s worse for entrepreneurs like me. I’m in a service business that more or less requires me to do stuff nearly every day. I don’t have to go to unnecessary and pointless meetings or any of that corporate nonsense. But I have to send out social media updates and publish articles and do things in real time, or at least on a particular day.

Even so, I still manage to take days off where I don’t do any work. Or I’ll schedule some things that morning and I’m out the door in an hour, visiting one of the theme parks or heading to the beach. Entrepreneurs are terrible at taking time off, so I fight for every day I can get.

We need those days off just to decompress, de-stress, and free our minds of all the clutter and nonsense we have to put up with the other 50 weeks out of the year. Vacations are not only beneficial to your health, including reducing heart disease, and they improve your productivity.

So here are five things you can do to put your mind at ease while you shut your laptop, turn off your phone, and go have fun.

1. Understand this: No one will die if you take some time off. I mean, if you’re a doctor or paramedic, that might actually happen if you skip a shift. But if you make arrangements first, your colleagues will cover you. As for the rest of you, unless you’re working on a project that’s worth hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, you can sneak out for a few days. Your colleagues functioned just fine before you entered their lives, and they’ll be fine when you’re gone. So they can handle it if you take five days out of the office and never check in.

2. Name an emergency backup in your out of office email reply. In your email auto-response, say that you’re completely cut off for a week, and if there’s an actual emergency, they should contact one of your colleagues. Give their email and phone number. I’ll bet that no one calls them. And if they do, empower your colleague to make a decision on your behalf. Then, return the favor the next time he or she goes on vacation.

3. Take care of all important deadlines before you go. Push the rest off until a week after you get back. Really, how important is your monthly TPS report? Will the company grind to a halt if you don’t turn it in? Probably not. But if you think it will, or if you could get yelled at for being late, send it in a little early. For everything else, just email those people, let them know when you’ll have their deliverables, and put it out of your mind for a week.

4. Leave your phone in the hotel room. Otherwise, you’ll check your email 18 times a day because you want to get a head start. Or people will call you for help. Or you’ll get roped into a conference call. Or someone will need “just one teeny little thing.” If you have to check your email, only do it once at night after you get back to your room.

5. Add an extra day for catch-up time. If you’re going to be gone for a week, block out an extra day in your schedule. Tell people you won’t get back until Tuesday. Then, go to the office and use that free day to catch up on all the emails in your inbox — no meetings, no phone calls, nothing that requires you to do anything except plow through all the junk that accumulated while you were away.

There are very few people who are actually, truly indispensable in their jobs. The rest of the company will run just fine without you. People will understand that you need to take some time off, and hopefully, they’ll leave you alone while you try to relax and spend time with your family. After all, the whole reason we work is so we can care for our families and enjoy our time with them. Your colleagues and clients should respect that and let you have your personal time.

And if they don’t, pester them mercilessly on their own vacation until they get the hint and promise to leave you alone.

How do you shut yourself down from work? Do you take your days off, or do you try to sneak in some work while you’re away? Share your tips and suggestions in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Laura Hoffman (Flickr, Creative Commons)

How to Easily Manage Your Vacation Photos

April 26, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

You want to capture all the great memories from your vacation: the sights you saw, the people you met, the places you ate at. The problem is, thanks to today’s digital cameras and smartphones, you can take literally hundreds of photos over a single week and not know what to do with them all when you’re done.

I had the same problem a few years ago. I used to take a lot of photos and then dump them on my laptop and forget about them for a year until I needed a particular one. Then I would have to wade through them all to find the one I wanted.

Finally, I got smart and developed a quick photo management process that helps me store and find my photos so I can easily find them later. Here are five ways you can easily manage your own vacation photos (or any photos you take).

1. Delete unwanted photos right away

Vacation photo of Epcot during the Flower and Garden Festival in May. One of my favorite times to visit.

Epcot during the Flower and Garden Festival in May 2017

One of the traps I’ve fallen into with a digital camera and a camera phone is that I’m less discerning about what I take and what I keep. I’m old enough to have used a film camera, and when it cost several dollars to get a roll of 24 exposures developed, you had to be more selective of the photos you took.

Compare that to when I was watching the Electric Light Parade at Magic Kingdom a few years ago and I snapped over 200 photos in 30 minutes, or more than 300 photos at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when I would cover the Indianapolis 500 for my blog. I would take 3, 4, and even 5 photos of the same float/car/person, in case one of them didn’t turn out, and I ended up keeping them all.

So instead, I got into the habit of deleting photos after I took them, when we sat down after a break, or even at the end of the day when I was waiting for my turn in the shower.

Rather than save up a couple thousand digital photos of your trip to Europe, take a few minutes once or twice a day and delete the photos you didn’t like or where someone blinked or the thing you wanted is too small. Then, when you’re sorting through your photos later, you don’t have so many to deal with, and the remaining four tasks are less daunting.

2. Save your photos to the cloud.

I am a big fan of Dropbox and use it for photo storage, although any cloud storage service will work. You can use Google Drive, Apple iCloud, or even Google Photos (formerly Picasa).

I pay for Dropbox’s 1TB storage plan (1 terabyte = 1,024 GB), so I set up my laptop to upload my photos whenever I plug in my phone or digital camera. And every few months, I’ll go through those photos, examine them again more closely, delete any that I don’t want, and rename them and date them — Electric Light Parade 037, 2-12-15 — so I know what they are at a glance. It sure beats trying to figure out what IMG_1482 was supposed to be.

3. Upload photos only on wifi

Try to upload your photos at night when you’re back into the hotel and on the wifi, rather than using your cellular data to do it during the day. While you can certainly have all your photos automatically upload as you take them, you have two issues: 1) you’re uploading every photo you take, including the bad ones, which will chew up your cellular data, and 2) this will run down your battery much faster.

And deleting the photos you don’t want first will also save your storage space, especially if you’re not paying for additional storage space on Dropbox or Google Drive.

4. Centralize your family photos

Depending on how many smartphone users you have, it might be a nice idea to combine your family photos and save them to an album that everyone can access. Whether it’s Google Photos, Instagram, or even Facebook, store the photos and share the link with everyone you’d like to see them.

You can start this by sharing your cloud storage drive (i.e. sharing the Dropbox photo with everyone. Ask everyone to upload their own photos to the drive, and make sure everyone has access.

If you grew up in a family where your folks would invite friends over to see slides of their vacation, you can relive those painful fun experiences again by broadcasting your photos through your TV, especially if you have Apple TV and use Apple’s iCloud, or Google Chromecast and Google Photos. Just make sure you have a comfy couch.

5. Never EVER post vacation photos while you’re on vacation!

I know you want all your friends to see pictures of your feet at the beach or your feet at the swimming pool, but that’s not very safe. For one thing, it tells anyone who sees your photos that you’re not at home. You don’t want to give potential thieves any indication that you’re away, so don’t share vacation photos while you’re on vacation.

Instead, wait until you get home and post them then. You can say things like “Here’s where we were last week” and people will still get the same enjoyment out of them that they would have a week earlier.

I never used to be a big photo taker when I was growing up. But thanks to digital cameras and smartphones, it’s not a problem to snap a quick pic to capture a memory. In fact, I seem to be making up for lost time, taking several hundred pictures every year. After spending many hours trying to sort through an entire year’s worth of photos, I started dealing with them in batches, especially on vacation and Disney visits, as a way to reduce my total workload, and came up with this process. Give it a try the next time you go on vacation and see if you can better manage your on vacation photos.

How do you deal with your vacation photos? Do you have any suggestions or favorite techniques? Share them with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers, used with permission

Prepare for a Road Trip With Your Mobile Phone

November 16, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

I’m getting ready to leave for an 7-hour road trip today (Tuesday), from Orlando to Pensacola, so I can read some of my humor columns at their annual Foo Foo Festival. (By the time this publishes, it will be the day of my reading!) I’ve never made the drive, but I’ve traveled I-75 many times, so I know what to expect. But there’s still some planning and preparation I need to make before I head to Pensacola.

1. Figure out what time to leave.

The Waze app shows you the best and fastest routes to take on your road trip.

The Waze app shows you the best and fastest routes to take on your road trip.

I always show up to a conference or event the day before I have to speak, in case something goes wrong en route. But I’m also worried about traffic. I know what time traffic gets heavy around Gainesville, so I need to get through there a couple hours before or after. I use Waze to help me determine the worst times for rush hour traffic and plan accordingly. I also try to leave Orlando before rush hour begins for the same reason.

2. Check the weather on the route.
One year, when I lived in Indianapolis, we were in danger of being iced in 24 hours before we were scheduled to leave for a Florida trip. So we packed up in a hurry and headed out of town, getting about seven hours away and out of the range of the storm. We learned it’s always a good idea to be flexible in our plans if we’re traveling during a particularly harsh weather season. We have always turned to the Weather Channel’s trip planner function that will show you the expected weather along your route. This can let you plan for inclement weather and allow yourself a little extra time, or hunker down in a hotel, during a storm. Weather Underground has a similar trip planner on its website.

3. Pre-plan your stops.
While you don’t need to plan every gas stop and restroom break, you should at least have an idea of when and where you’ll break for meals. Don’t just do the whole fast food drive through thing though. For one thing, that’s a little boring for the palate, but it’s also not as healthy as getting a decent meal at a sit-down restaurant. Plus, the high carbs could make you sleepy in the afternoon. Instead, try some interesting and local restaurants; check out the RoadFood website or TVFoodMaps, an app that shows you all the different places that have been featured on the different TV programs.

4. Include a fun stop or two
There may be a few tourist sites you want to explore on your road trip, so allow yourself some extra road time. I’ve been wanting to see the Lodge cast iron cookware factory near Monteagle, Tennessee for several years, and I’m hoping this time will be my chance to see it. If you don’t have anything planned, leave some extra time anyway, in case you make an unexpected discovery along the way. Whether it’s an outlet mall, museum, or one of those small-town pecan stores — is it “pe-KAHN” or “PEE-cann?” — in Georgia, take a break and enjoy the actual “road” part of your road trip.

5. Entertain yourself

The Overcast app and Decoder Ring Radio Theatre podcasts, one of my favorites on every road trip

The Overcast app and Decoder Ring Radio Theatre podcasts, one of my favorites on every road trip

Normally, I would take a plane instead of making a 7-hour drive, but I have a few reasons for doing so. For one, it’s an issue of price — I’m taking my family, so it’s not an effective use of our money. For another, I enjoy driving, so I always love a good road trip. Plus, I get to catch up on some of my favorite podcasts while everyone else sleeps.

I recommend the Overcast app for podcasts, and the NPR news app for finding local stations along, or just use the NPR One app to listen to public radio news, shows, and podcasts on demand (like Decoder Ring Theatre’s Red Panda audio theater adventures; they produced a few of my radio plays a few years ago). And of course, there are a plethora of music streaming apps — Spotify, Pandora, iTunes Music — to choose from if you don’t like your local radio choices while you’re on the road.

How do you plan for a road trip? Do you plan and map out your route, or just jump in the car and head in that direction, hoping for the best? Share your strategies with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit (Waze): Erik Deckers (used with permission)
Photo credit (Overcast): Erik Deckers (used with permission)

How to Avoid Getting Sick on Your Next Vacation

September 14, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

It was certainly a honeymoon to remember, as my new bride and I both got a stomach virus three days into our Disney World trip. As we lay in bed, battling our illness, trying to salvage what was left of our honeymoon, we realized we had been contaminated by someone who attended our wedding. We hugged and kissed so many people that day though, we couldn’t be sure of the guilty party.

(First of all, if you’ve been sick, or you’re fighting an illness, don’t go to a wedding!)

But we could have just as easily gotten sick on that vacation, and as I’ve been traveling more and more, I’m realizing how lucky I’ve been to not get sicker over the years.

So as you start traveling for the fall and winter, here are a few tips for you to remember to avoid getting sick on your next vacation.
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How Waze and Google Maps Work on Your Phone

August 31, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

It was May 2016, and I was on my way to Indianapolis, driving from Orlando. As I was nearing Atlanta, my phone beeped frantically. It was my GPS app, Waze, telling me to exit in a half mile.

I had learned from experience to always follow Waze, so I got over and exited onto some county highway just in time. As I exited, I saw cars stopping on the highway, backing up almost to the exit, the line stretching up as far as I could see

I followed the new directions, driving along county roads east of Atlanta. It took 30 minutes, and Waze finally deposited me back onto the highway, 10 miles north of where I had exited, back into the traffic jam I had left. I was back in the same line of traffic, but only for one mile, and I was only stuck in it for 20 minutes.
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Five Ways to Practice Online Security While on Vacation

February 10, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

One mistake travelers tend to make on vacation is letting their guard down when it comes to cybersecurity. Chances are, our home wifi is already fairly secure, and we feel free to pay our bills and do our banking online without any worry.

So you may think nothing of logging into your bank account and paying a few bills while you’re on vacation, or using your laptop in your hotel room to use Facebook and check emails.

Except public wifi hotspots are risky and unsecured at best. They may even be fake networks set up by hackers looking to break into your laptop. If you’re going to use any electronic devices to go online, it’s strongly advisable to follow a few security rules and use a few security tools to ensure your devices and information remain safe.
Be careful with your electronics when you're on vacation.

1. Be VERY Careful About Strange Wifis

Free hotel, restaurant, and airport wifi networks are notoriously unsecure, and you’re at risk just by logging into one. Never do anything with your finances or share personal information on an unsecure network without a VPN (see below). Even networks that require a password are still not very secure, so additional protection is important.
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Five Apps You Need On Your Next Road Trip

February 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

As a frequent driver, I love what my mobile phone can do. It’s a mini computer and camera that lets me make phone calls, and thanks to the various apps that are available, I could leave my house right now, and drive all the way across the country without a laptop or pre-planning, and navigate the entire trip.

But I couldn’t make it without my phone.

That’s because I use certain apps just to find my way around anymore. Whether it’s ordering coffee, booking a hotel, or finding somewhere to eat, there’s an app that’s sure to help any traveler on any trip. But there are a few that are perfect for road trips. Here are my top five.

Siri/Android Virtual Assistant

First, let’s get this out of the way: I don’t text and drive (and you shouldn’t either). Instead, I use Siri to send and read my texts.

If you have your mobile phone plugged into a power source, you can call out “Hey Siri” and she’ll answer. I plug the phone into the AUX jack on my stereo, so I can hear everything going on. When I say “Hey Siri, read my texts,” she’ll read any new texts, then ask if I want to respond. I dictate a short response to her, including all punctuation (because I’m a geek that way) and she sends it for me. There will be occasional errors, based on my pronunciations, like “will” instead of “we’ll,” but the people I text understand when I’m dictating, and will figure it out.
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Five Things You Need To Do When You’re Stranded On Vacation

October 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

As I write this, it’s the day before Hurricane Matthew is supposed to hit Central Florida, and Facebook has been abuzz with everyone preparing, making sure they have enough water, medicines, batteries and devices are powered up, and so on.

It reminds me of when we lived in Central Indiana, and were occasionally faced with impending snowstorms and blizzards. Grocery stores were wiped out, people bought water, bread, and canned food. And now, grocery stores are wiped out of water, bread, and canned food.

Radar photo of Hurricane Matthew. A lot of people had to hunker down on vacation.

See that little black marker? That was us. It had stopped raining in that area, and we got a break.

Thanks to Facebook, we are now very aware of when our family and friends are snowed in, rained out, stranded, marooned, or just plain stuck on their vacation, because of bad weather. And if you’re on vacation, it could be that you’re rained out of a day’s activities, or you’re stuck in a location for several days because of bad weather.

If you find you’re going to be stuck while you’re on vacation, whether you’re in a hotel, cabin, or even someone else’s house, there are a few things you should have, or plan on doing, in order to make the time go faster, as well as to keep safe.

1. Power up all batteries and devices

Make sure every electronic device you’re going to need is always charged. Plus, any non-essential devices might be good entertainment for the kids if the power goes out. Just remember, there won’t be any wifi, so don’t count on Netflix to keep you entertained.

Always make sure you have at least one battery backup “for the adults.” If you’re in a power failure, this may help you stay informed about your situation if you go too long without power.
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Four Teen and Tween Travel Tips

June 17, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

You’ve never been eye rolled until you’ve been eye rolled by a teenager. And as the father of three teenagers, I can tell you, they’re sharp. And a tough audience. Seriously, you tell a few good jokes — I mean, really good jokes — and your kids act all embarrassed to know you. What’s that all about?

Those eye rolls can come pretty fast too, when you’re on vacation. So here are four tips you can use to make your teens and tweens happy about the upcoming family vacation. Or at least not so eye rolly about it all.

1. Put a limit, not a ban, on video games and phone time

Group of people as they travel, posing together in front of a stone wall, like a castle.You don’t want your kids spending their entire vacation staring at a tiny screen, but neither do you want them to go without their personal devices, especially when you’re just dying to sneak a peek at Facebook while you wait in line.

Instead, put a time limit on phones and games, and reserve that time for the evenings, after dinner. If you can actually manage a total media blackout for everyone in the family, more power to you. But those little devices can go a long way to alleviating boredom on a rainy day.
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