I’ve always been surprised by the reluctance many people have to take their annual vacations. Even in the United States, where two to three weeks is a normal allocation for many employees, many avoid taking their allotted days. In most of Europe, oddly enough, the opposite is true: workers often have five or six weeks annual leave, and generally take every day or it. It seems, somehow or other that our European cousins have a better appreciation of the value that vacations offer not just to the employee, but to the employer as well.
This is a topic I’ve covered from a number of different directions in my book, Vacation Rules. Here are two rules that provide some guidance for workaholics and reluctant vacationers:
Vacation smart to work smart.
Workaholics worry that if they abandon ship, even for a short while, their ship might abandon them. In fact, taking the right types of regularly scheduled vacations will put you in a position where your work performance can reach its highest potential.
To really recharge your batteries and return to work with the best possible frame of mind, you need to get three things right on your vacation. First, avoid replacing the stresses of work with the stresses of travel. Choose your type of trip wisely, avoiding complicated itineraries unless you really enjoy that type of challenge.
Next, actively avoid thinking negative thoughts about your work. When they pop up, replace them with thoughts about colleagues you enjoy working with, projects you are looking forward to, and the career advances you plan for the coming years.
Lastly, try to learn something new—it might be cooking, surfing, painting, a dance class, or a language refresher course. Taking on a challenge that offers the potential for real achievement can boost your confidence and put you in a better position to tackle problems back at work.
Set achievable vacation challenges.
Having what psychologists call a mastery experience is key to performing better at work after your vacation. But for the experience to be worthwhile, your skill level needs to match the challenges presented. If you’re not sufficiently challenged, you’ll get bored. And if you’re not up to the challenge, you’ll feel anxious and stressed.
A morning on the golf course with some beginners will be fun if you’re a beginner, too, but very annoying if you are a skilled golfer. Likewise, an Italian cooking class may be perfect if your kitchen skills are up to it, but you’ll feel awkward and depressed if you can’t get past the basic prep tasks.
Plan mastery experiences that will require you to stretch a little to taste success, but avoid challenges where you are likely to fall short. It’s a vacation, after all.
You shouldn’t feel too guilty about taking time off work, or worry about what might happen back at the office once you’ve arrived in paradise. Chances are things will be much the same when you return, except, perhaps, that your batteries will be recharged and you’ll be ready to tackle whatever challenges your job may throw at you.
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– Rod Cuthbert