The weather’s warming up, flip flops are emerging and kids are out of school. For lots of people, that spells vacation season. But not for everyone. Many of us get so wrapped up in our worklives that we don’t take all the time off we’re entitled to….or need. In fact, Americans only use about 77 percent of their paid time off, which translates to almost 430 million unused vacation days annually.
Demanding workloads, and the drive to compete lead many to believe sacrificing time off is the key to job survival. But peak performers know the opposite is true: folks who take most or all of their vacation time perform better, are more productive and more satisfied.
Still, it can be hard to take time off because we’re afraid of falling behind, and paying for it when we get back. The key is to be organized in order to fully enjoy and maximize the benefits of time off:
- Think of your vacation as an investment in your performance. When you are recharged and rejuvenated, you have more energy, make fewer mistakes, and come up with more creative solutions to workplace problems. As an added bonus, the deadlines (of a flight or vacation time) force you to focus, eliminate unnecessary distractions, and get more done. Just think how clear your desktop gets right before you leave for vacation!
- Vacation in short bites. Even two days away can improve your wellbeing, so consider scheduling a series of wonderful long weekends throughout the summer, if you can’t swing a full week or two. These mini-breaks refresh your spirit on a regular basis without sacrificing any work momentum and motivate you to stay focused during the workweek.
- Prepare the people you work with. Starting one to two weeks before you leave, remind key players you interact with (supervisors, co-workers, key clients) the days you will be out of the office, so that they get deadline driven assignments to you in advance. Meet with any colleagues covering for you to pass along projects, giving them clear decision rights on things they can handle in your absence, and what constitutes an emergency worth contacting you for.
- Pull the Plug. Ensure you are able to relax and recharge by limiting your contact with the office while on vacation. If you must check-in, give yourself a time limit like every other day or five minutes per. If you have prepped your colleagues and shared your contact information, they should be prepared to handle things while you are out and know how to find you should the need arise.
- Build in re-entry time. Minimize the wall of stress that can hit on our first day back from vacation by planning. Get home early enough to unpack and get a good night’s sleep. Avoid meetings for the first half day back at the office. You’ll need time to catchup on what happened while you were gone before taking on new projects and assignments.
The good news is, it’s not just our time away that benefits us; we get an emotional reward from anticipating a vacation. So, get some use out of those flip flops—it’ll help your career, and your sanity.
For over 25 years, New York Times bestselling author and organizational consultant Julie Morgenstern has transformed the way individuals and companies function around the globe, including American Express, Microsoft, FedEx, and the NYC Mayor’s Office.
Her cutting edge advice has been featured on programs from The Oprah Winfrey Show to Good Morning America and NPR, and she is regularly featured in a variety of print magazines and publications, including Forbes, Harvard Business review, and The Wall Street Journal.
In today’s fast-paced culture, professional success often seems synonymous with long days, never-ending to-do lists, and sleepless nights. But it doesn’t have to be that way.