Why you Need a Vacation–Unplugged

I just returned from two weeks in misty, cold Scotland and came back to near 100-degree weather, lots of email, and after adjusting to jet lag and the heat, felt that I had missed lots of business opportunities.  I’m self-employed, so when I’m not working, the plates that I normally spin, come crashing down.

Was it worth it the time away? 

In a word: YES.

Anyone who knows me knows that travel and adventure are a part of my life that I enjoy, crave and define who I am.  But vacation is more than exotic locales.  It’s a chance for a fresh start.

Have you ever noticed that any job becomes tedious without a break?  Whenever I’ve changed jobs, I felt that I have the opportunity for a fresh start with a new company.  Deep down I know that I’m just trading one set of problems and similar headaches for another, but the sense that I’m seeing things through fresh eyes is a major advantage.  In Zen Buddhism, this is considered using a “beginner’s mind.” 

Vacation–if it’s long enough–can provide the same sense of renewal.  It also brings focus and a clearer sense of priorities.  With no interruptions or constant distractions, it’s amazing how your mind hones in on the really important issues.  Often, what may have seemed critical inside the workspace suddenly reveals itself for what it is: minutiae.

A seminal study by Harvard a decade ago showed that executives who didn’t take regular vacations, died earlier than those who did.  Another study that appeared in Bloomberg Businessweek a few years ago said that half of American workers didn’t take all their vacation.  Yet the study also found that job performance increased by 82% post-vacation.

For those of you who are also self-employed, the stress and never-ending continuum of problems, fatigue and tedium can wear you down year after year, so it’s all the more important to find enough time to get away from it all.  The increase in creativity alone is worth trying to defend yourself from clients’ pointed remarks about taking vacation while they’re busy at the office.

As I was being interviewed by security in Glasgow about what I had in my carry-on, the airline employee couldn’t believe that I didn’t carry a laptop, a cell phone or any other electronics to “stay in touch.”  I told her that I was on vacation and to me that meant getting away from it all.  She looked at me as if I were an anachronism from another place and time.

Yet, research supports those of us who take regular holidays.  Patients at a rehab center in Lawrence, Kansas, for executives who have sexual harassment, substance abuse, and emotional issues in the workplace, all have one characteristic in common:  “They never took vacation.”

What are your plans this year:  work, work, work–or take time off, unplugged?

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    1. Anne Henderson
      Posted August 8, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      I’m reading this post after returning to work from four lovely days off. I’m refreshed, but still a little sad to be back in the daily grind. Maybe next time I need a few more days off.

    2. Posted August 8, 2011 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      Anne, I do think that you need more time away from your job. The mark of a refreshing vacation is when you can no longer remember some of your online passwords and work seems manageable–at least for a few days!


    3. Anne Henderson
      Posted August 9, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      Well that settles it. I need another vacation!

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