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Hello and welcome, 2019 — you feel fantastic!  But I don’t give you much credit for this feeling.  I attribute that to the last week of your predecessor, good old 2018.

I’ve known it intellectually for years and learned once again through experience during the 2018 holiday season that vacations are amazing!

I absolutely love my job.  I’m passionate about helping create great workplaces, I get to work with amazing people, and I enjoy running a business.  That being said, my energy naturally ebbs and flow like everyone else’s.  Vacations are key to staying on top of that cycle.

When you love your job, you own the business, or feel pressure to work without breaks, it’s hard to be off work for a period of time.  Sometimes we skip vacations for a year or two…or more.

We spend 8-10 (and sometimes more) hours per day working 5-7 days per week.  We jokingly say that we see our coworkers more than our families and friends.  But there comes a point in everyone’s life when it’s not so funny anymore.

Can you relate?

No matter how much you like your job, everyone needs time to relax, reflect, and re-energize in order to do their best work.

My Vacation Experience

I hadn’t really planned to take a vacation.  I had some projects I wanted to squeeze in before the end of the year so I could start the year fresh.Freedom

Then it hit me. There’s nothing magical about December 31st.  I wasn’t going to turn back into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight.

As I looked out my window and pondered this, I thought about the reduced number of daylight hours, saw the plants had completely shut down external production, noticed many birds had left to vacation in the tropics, and considered many animals were in their burrows taking long winter naps.  What if I took my cues from nature rather than focus on the date?

I decided none of my work was urgent; it would be there next year.  I wanted to take some time off!

During my vacation, I relaxed on a very deep level.  I slowed down, visited with family, read more, meditated more, slept more, and took a mini-vacation to a town in Northern Michigan I had never visited before.

Being a person who thrives on being productive, I began to get a little concerned that laziness, my most feared enemy that lurks at my door constantly, had found the key under the mat and moved in for good.

But to my surprise, on the final day before I had to “get back to reality,” I decided to tackle the one thing that I’d hoped to do over the holiday: clean out my office.  I was injected with more energy that I had felt in months.

I got up early and spent the whole day sorting, filing, shredding, and recycling.  I had so much energy, I expanded my project to every nook and cranny of my home where needless items had gathered.  I was in the zone and having fun!

Clearing clutter is always cathartic for me, so that was no surprise, but the energy I had to do it was shocking.  It’s like a switch was flipped during my days off and there is now a steady stream of energy.

The Studies Say

There is concrete research to back up my experience.

There are dozens of studies in organizational psychology and related fields to support the link between taking time away from work and higher levels of performance.  Vacations allow people to control the negative effects of stress on energy, job engagement, and health.

HR experts have known this for years, and it’s why we are strong advocates of having and enforcing vacation policies.

ClockWhy Would Anyone Skip Vacation?

For many people, vacations can be the source of stress.  Employees often complain that they have to work twice as much the week before vacation to get ready to go on vacation, and then do it again the week they come back to catch up from being gone.

It’s hard to get into deep relaxation over vacation with looming deadlines and what is sure to be a mountain of an in-box was waiting your return.  Many people decide it’s just not worth it to take a vacation; it’s just too stressful!

Make a Plan

Given the challenges around being away from work, let’s dig deeper than the simple statement — take more vacations.  How can you make leaving for and returning from vacation easier?

It’s important to take some time now to brainstorm ideas and select the ones that will work for you.  If you wait until a week before vacation, you’ll be back in the cycle of being too overwhelmed to implement any new processes.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Separate the truly urgent from a perceived urgency in the week leading up to vacation by asking:
    • What is the consequence of not completing a task before I leave?
    • Can I renegotiate any deadlines?
  • Discuss with a reliable co-worker how they can keep work flowing so you won’t be overwhelmed when you return.
    • Maybe check voicemails and handle emails?
    • Open and sort mail?
    • Touch base with clients?
  • Schedule vacations well in advance, and take the time off into consideration when setting project plans and deadlines to ensure you don’t over-promise and under-deliver.
  • Don’t schedule any meetings the day prior to and the day after vacation to allow some breathing room.

If you are a supervisor interested in making work life more enjoyable and productive for the employees you support, share this article with them.  Talk to them now about scheduling vacations.  Help them brainstorm about how they will make the transition in and out of vacation easier.  If this goes smoothly for them, it will have a positive impact on their coworkers, customers and you!

Please comment below, and share your techniques for ensuring you take regular time away from work as well as what you plan to do this year to kick it up a notch.  I can’t wait to borrow some ideas from you!

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