What stressed me out the most when I had my first child late last year wasn’t making sure I had a nursery set up or what I could (and couldn’t) eat and drink during pregnancy. By far, the thing that kept me up at night was the fear that I wouldn’t plan well enough for the time I was out of the office and end up leaving my team in the lurch.
My plan was to take full 12 weeks of parental leave off to disconnect from work and enjoy this precious time with my husband and newborn. But because that was my plan, and because I had five direct reports on top of a number of important responsibilities and projects, I had to be thoughtful and organized about how I handled the transition.
Through a bit of trial and error, I created a two-part system that made my transition and leave so much easier, and which I highly recommend any expecting parent use before taking time off.
1. Your pre-leave weekly sprint plan
Since babies can come anytime, I planned my last five weeks at work before my due date as weekly “sprints” (inspired by product management sprint planning). I realized that if I had five balls in the air and went into labor early, that would make it really tough for my team to take on what was in progress. Instead, I tried to tackle projects in one to two week increments, wrapping each one up before taking on the next.
The goal was to both align everyone on what was going to get done by me before leave (and therefore what was not), and if I went out early, to make it possible for the team to pick up where I left off.
Important note: I kept the last week mainly as buffer, and transferred my direct reports to their interim managers one to two weeks out to ease the transition.
2. Your leave planning documentation
The second document I prepared was my parental leave plan, which is the one most people leave their teams when going on leave. It’s key to have all of the important information laid out here, which may vary based on your role and company.
In this version, there are six key sections:
- Logistics: your due date, the plan for when you’re going to start working from home before then, your last day in the office, and length of leave you’re planning to take, contact info for the doctor and the hospital in case of emergency
- Recurring meetings : meetings you lead as well as participate in, lay out who will run them in your place or if they’ll be canceled
- Direct Reports: who they’ll report to while you’re out, if anyone else will be spending additional time with them as support, how often you typically meet with them, and any relevant notes.
- Approvals: list of things you approve or have to do (e.g., signing contracts, approving expenses above a certain size) and who will be handling in your absence.
- Information Flow: a very short list of important things you want to get updates on to your personal email (if any), as well as topics you want to continue being cc’d on via your work address so you could read it when you’re back.
- Other: for any miscellaneous information. It’s better to overshare here even if people never read it, rather than leave them wondering.