We’re probably all in need of a break about now. And there’s nothing like the heat of the summer months to underscore the point.
Statistics confirm we’re overdue for a break. This is particularly true of Americans — according to Pew Research Center, only 48% of Americans use all their vacation days each year. On average that’s 9.5 unused vacation days per person.
Take a second to think about that! People have untold numbers of reasons (and excuses) for not taking time off, among them real fears about falling behind on projects or job stability.
But the question you also have to ask, if you’re risking not giving yourself a break because of those anxieties: How much is it costing you NOT to take a break and necessary rest?
Failing to take sufficient time for yourself to recover between big projects, or from a daily grind, is one of the chief underlying causes of burnout in the workplace. If you’re not taking the time off you’re entitled to, then your work is likely suffering as much as you are.
OK, so hopefully now you’re onboard with the idea: you need a vacation. The question remains: how do we prepare for that break in our normal routine that doesn’t make it more stressful than just staying home?
Angela took to the blog a few weeks ago to write about Productive Flourishing’s Level Up Your Life and Leadership retreat, coming up in September 2023. She wrote in part about how often PF retreat participants report that it’s one of their first experiences of feeling truly restored by a vacation. (Hint: see suggestions 5 and 6 for some of the reasons why.)
How Can You Make Your Break (Actually) Relaxing?
Here are some simple steps you can implement that will help your time away be more relaxing, because you’ve prepared yourself to be away, you’ve disconnected effectively, and you’ve found ways to truly enjoy the time you’re spending out of the office and away from home.
- Prepare for your absence. Before you leave for your vacation, take steps to ensure that your home and work responsibilities are taken care of in your absence. This might include setting up an automatic email response, delegating tasks to colleagues, or arranging for someone to look after your pets or plants.
- Decide on a system for idea- and to-do capture for the weeks leading up to your break, and while away. Many people like to make lists before leaving, such as what they’ll need to pack. You might also want to print out, alongside your packing list, your go-to Action Item Catcher to capture random tasks, breadcrumbs and ideas you have that will be relevant to your projects (either as you’re doing a CAT of current projects, or while you’re actually away.
- Plan accordingly. While some aspects of travel might be handled by an agency or a package deal, you’ll get more out of the experience of being someplace new by delving into the history of the place — traditions or festivals that might be on at that time of year, and the like. You can also benefit from knowing where other people are likely to be (in swarms and crowds) and what places locally are less likely to be overrun. If you are booking for yourself, take a moment to think about what your expectations and preferences are for accommodation and transportation. What boundaries are you willing to stretch and what would be non-negotiables? Making a rough itinerary can also make you anticipate your break with more excitement.
- Keep your routine in mind (….but don’t make it a straightjacket.) When planning your vacation, consider how your usual daily routine might be disrupted and what you can do to minimize the impact. For example, if you typically exercise in the morning, try to find a hotel with a gym or plan outdoor activities that allow you to maintain your fitness routine. Similarly, if you have dietary restrictions or preferences, research nearby restaurants and grocery stores that can accommodate your needs.
- Don’t overschedule. It’s natural to want to make the most of your vacation, but it’s also important to set realistic expectations about what you can accomplish in the time you have. Trying to cram too many activities into your itinerary can leave you feeling rushed and stressed, defeating the purpose of your vacation. Instead, prioritize a few must-sees or must-dos and leave some downtime for relaxation and spontaneity.
- Unplug and disconnect. One of the major reasons the Level Up Retreats have been such a success is that they encourage participants to turn off their devices while engaging. This can be during the day while you’re in the place you put so much time, money, and energy getting to, or it might even be for the entire week or however long you’re away. Going completely off the grid might not be realistic, but try to limit your screen time and focus on being present in the moment. If you want to do the “lite” version of this, turn off notifications, set boundaries with your workplace and colleagues in advance, and designate specific (limited) times for checking emails and social media.
- Embrace a wanderer’s spirit. You’ll be happier because of it. Spontaneity and flexibility are your friends. Remember even the best-laid plans can sometimes go awry. Flights get delayed, weather changes, and unforeseen events can arise. Instead of stressing, try to take a page out of the book of Zen and view these moments as opportunities to practice mindfulness and patience, and to have new experiences. Some of the best memories come about from unplanned adventures.
Taking time away from your normal nine-to-five and routine does not have to be an unpleasant experience. Consider it a way to re-enrich your life and infuse yourself with fresh energy and new realizations to bring back to your day-to-day life.
Following the suggestions above can make summering/holidays/vacations/breaks be the liberating, renewing experience they’re meant to be.