First, don’t panic. (We saw you skim this list.) But knowing us, you didn’t really expect it would be a short checklist, did you?
After all, if you were packing for a three-month trip anywhere, how long would your to-do list be?
These are the things we think most expecting moms will want to do during their last week (if not earlier).
Karen Rubin of Talking Talent suggests that you start crossing things off your last-minute checklist before maternity leave a few weeks before your planned last day in the office (particularly because your baby may arrive early).
- Finalize and distribute your maternity leave plan. Make sure every stakeholder knows in writing what the status of key projects is. Be clear about what must happen while you are out, and what you can pick back up on when you return.
- Create an auto-reply message for your work email. But do not write that you will respond to messages upon your return. You don’t mean that! And even if you do, don’t invite more work for yourself, dammit!! (See Week 54: Dealing with a Mountain of Email.) Instead, list the name of a colleague or two or three who the person can contact in your absence.
- Create an automated voicemail that says the same thing as your email. Do not hand out your cell phone for emergencies. Be sure to tell them how to reach customer service or one of your colleagues who will be covering for you.
- Give your manager (not your colleagues) your emergency contact information -- for use during emergencies. This includes phone numbers, emails, even your mailing address if you think it might come in handy.
- Give your colleagues and/or manager digital access to the project files they will need. This may require a conversation with the IT department and a change of password if they are currently password protected. Trust us, you don’t want your team stuck trying to access a file and calling you while you’re nursing. And you don’t want to give them the password you use (because it’s either embarrassing, personal, or something you use for everything else).
If at all possible, don’t leave your team with folders or piles of paper which can be easily lost. If you must do that, keep a photocopy somewhere easily accessible, e.g. in an obvious folder at your desk.
- Schedule a phone call to catch up with your manager a week before your expected return to the office. You may as well send that invitation now so it’s on both of your calendars and will remind them when you’ll be back.
- Send another calendar invite to your manager for your intended first day back in the office. Block out time now to have a catch up on your priorities and to catch up on anything major you missed. It doesn’t have to be a long meeting; but setting it early in the week of your return will help you get adjusted and get back into the swing of things.
- Check in with your HR department to see if there are any forms or documents you will need to sign or send in (e.g. from your doctor). If you have to send in short-term disability paperwork or FMLA documentation, get all that lined up now.
- If you plan on breastfeeding when you return from your leave, find out where the pumping facilities will be and how scheduling (if this is relevant) will work. You don’t want to show up on your first day back in a panic because you don’t have a key to the room or know where you’re going.
- Similarly, we advise you block out time for pumping now. Block out time every 2.5 to 3 hours where you can take at least 20-30 minutes to pump. Setting it up now means that on your first week back you won’t have to be thinking about when you will pump and whether you can take a meeting during a certain time. You don’t have to explain right now what these blocked periods are for, but hopefully, in an environment where calendars are synched, others will see and respect your availability.
- Clean up your desk and workplace. Your return to work may already feel chaotic so you want to return to an environment where things are tidy and organized. This means throwing away piles of unnecessary paperwork and filing away things where they belong so that you don’t face a mountain of stuff you have to throw out when you return. It also leaves a good impression if you expect people to drop by your desk.
- If you would like, you can also set up a note on your cubicle or office door informing everyone when you will return and that they can leave documents with your covering colleague / boss.
- Go to the company mailroom and ask for your mail to be temporarily forwarded to a colleague or to your home address (whichever you prefer). Some of us receive important correspondence at our office addresses and you may not want to miss things coming in for you.
- Find out about benefits enrollment dates and windows for your new baby from HR. Most healthcare plans allow at least one month from the birth of your child for you to elect into coverage for new children and dependents. Make sure you put this date on your calendar because it’s important.
- If you plan on keeping in touch with your team or colleagues -- e.g. by calling into weekly meetings, schedule these things in your personal calendar now as well as your work calendar. This will remind everyone that they can reach you during this time and may make it less likely they’ll interrupt you at different times (if that’s what you want). But remember, it’s hard to anticipate exactly what your postpartum experience will be like, so don’t over-commit.
- Say thank you to colleagues who will be covering for you. As Karen Rubin of Talking Talent says, “It’s nice to express your thanks to the individuals in advance for covering your work. Some suggestions include a hand-written note, taking them out to lunch, or a sincere verbal expression of appreciation.”
- Turn off your computer, push in your chair, and go get a pedicure! Or try to find a few minutes a time for yourself...because trust us, it ain’t gonna happen after the baby arrives.
It’s hard to believe it’s almost time to get ready for the baby’s big arrival. It’s so good to leave your workplace with the peace of mind of knowing you’ve dotted all your i’s and crossed all your t’s. Trust us, there will be plenty of happy chaos, surprises and spontaneity and in the days to come!