Around this time every year, our clients in Europe take about a month off - and these are serious people with serious companies. Here in the U.S., this sounds nuts - amazing, but also nuts. A whole month off! But, again and again, the research shows that our European friends understand something about productivity that we don't.
A few stats for your consideration: According to CNBC, "Nine of the top 10 most productive countries in the OECD in 2015, measured by GDP per hour worked, were in Europe. The United States ranked sixth." This article also cites a study which found that "workers who took 11 or more vacation days were more likely to have received a raise or a bonus in the previous three years than workers who took 10 or fewer days."
Not convinced? Here's what the research says about our vacation habits in the United States:
Hopefully, you're on board with taking that much-needed vacation. Now, how to make the most of your time off? Even if you aren't planning an expensive trip, you can still enjoy the benefits of giving yourself a break.
Here are a few tips to have your best vacation ever:
1. Enjoy the preparation. For someone who has young children - this tip is a bit hard for me to get behind, especially since preparing for a vacation includes packing up what feels like my entire house, feeling 100% confident that they’ll never sleep in the pack-n-play, and worrying endlessly about the right time to stop for bottles and potty breaks along the journey. But, the experts swear that anticipating a vacation is just as enjoyable as the vacation itself (according to a 2010 study). I guess this is true if the vacation you’re anticipating doesn’t include a baby and a toddler!
2. Shut it down. Disconnect from technology - put your phone and email down. Prepare your team to cover for you in advance so you will not need to check in while you are on vacation. Even if it isn't realistic for you to be completely off the grid, set strict limits on your availability for work check-ins. Maybe check email for 30 minutes first thing in the morning, but that's it for the day. According to Psychology Today, "Vacations are a great opportunity to connect with family and friends in a way that isn’t always possible in everyday life. Research suggests that traveling together can strengthen bonds, improve communication, and even reduce the likelihood of divorce. To make sure you reap these benefits, leave your devices at home, or at least turn them off."
3. Make it restorative. Plan something that will give you energy once you go back to life as usual. For some, that may mean planning an adventurous trip, but be careful not to plan too many activities - you don't want your vacation to be more exhausting than your work! According to Inc.com, "Even the most generous strong people need to replenish. Take a day to pamper yourself.” Strive for a mix of enjoying new experiences and taking time to relax.
4. Be mindful. Make an effort to be present with your travel companions and to take in your surroundings. Take photos to remember your trip, but don’t spend the whole time with your face jammed into your device - you might miss the moments if you’re too busy trying to capture them all.
5. Ease back in. The Psychology Today article I referenced above called it the “work sandwich” - and I think we can all relate to that. Trying to cram in a bunch of work before we leave and returning to a mountain of things when we get back is a big reason why some people skip the vacation all together. Careful planning well in advance can help with this. If you know that you typically have a few weeks in the summer that are slow, plan your vacation time then, and let your team know early. Have a plan for essential work to be completed by others on the team while you are gone so you can ease back in after your vacation without a plate full of urgent matters to address. I typically prepare detailed instructions for how to handle situations that may arise in my absence so that the person or people covering for me have everything they need to do it well; and, I always return the favor by covering for my team members so they can fully enjoy their time off. Another strategy might be to take a few shorter breaks where you unplug completely rather than one long vacation if that's not feasible.
However you can swing it, take some time to relax this summer. Your health, your family, your coworkers, your company, and the economy as a whole will thank you!
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