WASHINGTON - Before a person goes on vacation, several things must happen to prove that taking time off is the only way to maintain sanity.
In addition, the longer the vacation, the longer the list of, shall we say, encouraging signs.
If you're just going on a three-day weekend, then you might get off nearly scot-free.
Should you have the audacity to take off an entire week or, in some hallowed circles, two weeks, then brace yourself for the pre-vacay fallout.
First, the workweek just before your vacation is likely to be tough for one reason or another.
If you've been hunkering down in the corner plowing through reams of work diligently and quietly, suddenly you will be noticed and really put to work.
"My gosh, that report is due two weeks after you get back, Jane. We've got to have it now," a boss somewhere is saying right now.
He's using the eyes in the back of his head to silently count how many people are on vacation now, how many are going next week and how many will be around when he takes time off.
If you're in a job in which the ad called for an "extremely self-motivated individual," expect to find yourself in a dead heat between you and you.
You will be competing with yourself to see how much work you can get done before leaving.
At some point, if you're lucky, a loved one will come to your workplace, grab you by the heels and pull you -- kicking, screaming and fingernails digging ruts in the tile -- out the door to the gassed-up recreational vehicle running in the alley.
You and the loved one both know that after you've recovered from the initial shock of not working, you'll be wearing a Hawaiian shirt, singing along off-key to your iPod and tossing your razor in the trash.
If you fall into neither of these two categories, get ready for everything at work to go crazy.
You're a clerk in a shop selling used bedpans?
It's been dead for weeks because of the recession and other obvious reasons, but now everyone needs a creative, fun planter for the front porch.
So get busy emptying, people. Stock in the back is low.
On the other hand, it might be hard to get anything done.
Everyone else is already on vacation, dreaming of approaching time off or wishing they were still in Margaritaville.
So those crucial three phone calls you need? Not happening.
Back on the home front, the dishwasher is breaking down, the lawn is high, the cat needs a bath and you can't possibly leave for six wonderful days in Timbuktu without a sparkling toilet bowl.
Do what I do. Make a list of everything you need to get done before vacation.
You'll be surprised at how long it is and what gets on there: Filing for refunds from your flex spending account, cleaning off the flotsam and jetsam littering your cubicle, beginning a new exercise program, answering Facebook friend requests, starting to write that novel, finishing a 1,007-page book in the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series so you can take the next one on vacation.
This brings us to final pre-vacay activities: sinking into panic, followed by waves of grief and self-reproach, replaced by letting go, finally blotted out by the overwhelming joy of dropping everything for just a few days.
Now, doesn't that feel nice?
We won't even talk about the post-vacation blues.