One of the things I always dread when taking any length of time off is trying to catch up on all the things that have happened while I was out. A few days is nothing, but anything longer than a week I feel some level of anxiety around taking the time off, knowing that there will be a whole lot waiting for me when I get back.
As I finish up for over two weeks off, this time around I've put measures in place to try and make catching up much less painful.
Create a Catch-Up Doc - Before You Go
This might seem like putting the horse before the cart, but hear me out.
Recently, my manager returned from a 5-month sabbatical, and in preparation for her return one of my colleagues started a "while you were gone doc" to give her a starting point on the things that are worth knowing/watching/reading. This included highlights, incidents, or anything she might have found interesting.
Since then, it's become a "thing" that my team does: if you're taking a week or more off and you would like a catch-up doc for when you return, you are responsible for starting the document before you go and asking the rest of the team to keep it updated.
I've started one before taking off this time, creating a bunch of sections (and setting up a template for others to use, obviously).
My catch-up document consists of the following sections:
I like to make it clear what the expectations are while I'm gone: usually that I'm not going to be thinking about work, or contactable via Slack or Email while I'm gone. I also make a point of providing alternative contacts while I'm gone if something can't wait, someone from my team will absolutely be able to help.
How long will I be away, and what day can I be expected to return?
What do I need to do first? Is there a security update I need to do immediately, or forms to fill in?
Many of my team meetings are recorded for the benefit of anyone who is not available, and also for re-watching depending on the importance of the meeting. These meetings are usually available for 3 months before they expire.
Were there any decision records, or documents produced while I was gone? What about interesting threads to read, or pull requests to read over?
Did anything awesome happen while I was gone? Did that deprecation we've been working on finally get over the line? Tell me something to spark some joy!
Were there any incidents? Did something not go as expected? One thing I hope not to see in these sections is that someone is leaving or has left while I'm away.
Was there anything else that doesn't fit into the other sections? Anything else the team can think of to dump in the document and make sure it doesn't get lost in the void?
This kind of document only works if the team are on board with the idea, as it's really up to the team how much detail goes in there. I'm very lucky right now with a team that takes the time to regularly update these documents, and if they don't update it as they go, someone will usually panic fill it in at the last moment which is wonderful.
This goes hand in hand with the catch-up document... If it's not in the document, or in my immediate team channel(s), it will be marked as read and I will move on. If anything is really that important, and I've missed it then I'm sure it will come up again and I'll see it then. There's only so much time you can commit to catching up, and for your own sanity (particularly if you lurk in many channels) is to accept there will be things you don't catch up on.
Except for the #dogs channel, I will always go back through all posts in there. 🐾