This spring, my family and I took six days of vacation during my work break, and we had an exceptionally good time. I had worked very hard leading up to the trip, handing off a few research papers to colleagues before leaving, and I knew that I would come home to multiple deadlines stacked up in the ensuing weeks. And yet, I returned home from our trip refreshed and eager to tackle the workload ahead of me.
Seem paradoxical? I wondered about this, too. During my trip, I read two articles and a book that spoke to me about the importance of vacations and breaks, and now that I’ve lived out the truth of these messages, I want to share them with you.
Many Americans Don't Take Advantage of Time Off
This article may present a gloomy statistic: over half of workers didn’t use all of their vacation days in 2017. However, the number of days taken has risen slightly over the last few years. According to the data collected, the top reasons people don’t take vacations are because they’re scared of seeming replaceable or they have too much work to do.
If you’re a manager or business owner, it may be worth looking at your organization’s culture to determine whether or not norms in your company discourage days off. Is there a sense of respect attached to never needing time off? If your company culture looks down on employees taking time away, you should definitely keep reading.
Taking Time Off Makes Us Better Workers
Most people would agree that you can’t work all the time, but how many of us stay constantly “plugged in” to work most of our waking hours? As a professional and entrepreneur, I’m definitely guilty of this. I check email alerts on my phone, jot down ideas for blog posts, and create marketing materials after my kids are in bed, instead of taking time to completely recharge. I love my work, but I could stand to take more breaks.
That’s why this article on resilience and recharging strongly resonated with me. The premise is that to work effectively, we need to be resilient—and to be resilient, we have to take time to recover from hard work.
In so many ways, I already knew this from my distance running training. My coach told me—and I thoroughly believed—that my one or two rest days a week were crucial for helping me become stronger and faster. Reading this article encouraged me to think about active recovery from hard non-physical work as well. What types of things should I do to recharge my brain and body after a full day of consulting work? Really, anything that gets me away from the computer or the phone is a big help. Exercise, time with my kids, and cooking are often ways that I like to unwind. And, although I enjoy checking my social media on my phone as much as the next person, that’s not nearly as restful, and I’m trying to limit that.
Taking Time to Pursue Other Interests is Good for Your Work
Finally, the book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less echoes many of the same sentiments, but it also provides some science behind why rest is so important to productivity. This hit home for me, too—as I mentioned in a previous blog post, having boundaries on my office time, based around my kids’ school schedules, has actually increased my work efficiency.
You don’t have to view rest as completely non-active, either. As the science in this book suggests, I find that regularly scheduled physical activity, like my runs or a weekly tennis match, also increase my productivity at work. As Catherine Burns puts it, “I used to think I didn’t have time to exercise, but I’m so much more efficient on days when I work out that I now feel that I don’t have time not to exercise!”
One of the most interesting things I read in this book was the notion that the number of connections the brain makes at rest is only slightly lower than those made while working. In other words, when engaged in rest, your brain is not “off”—it’s actually still tinkering with ideas and problems on a nearly subconscious level. No surprise then, that more than once, I’ve come up with a feasible solution to a work problem while running.
What are you doing to build helpful rest into your life? As a manager or business owner, do you promote appropriate rest among your workforce? Could your overall company culture use a pulse check or some revamping? Check out the HR consulting services I offer here, and let me know if you’d like to schedule a consultation.