Vacations: Who needs them anyway?

The answer is we all do, whether we know it or not! But not necessarily in the traditional sense. It’s all about balance. I have known great leaders to take time off beautifully and others to feel they never can or need to. But in the age of ideas, it’s a proven fact that your thinking improves when you take a bit of a distance. The question is: how much distance is necessary? Modelling behavior about time-off really makes a difference for leaders and the people they inspire. Even mini-breaks like lunch time seem to be frowned upon in some places. Now might be a good time for leaders to rethink the way they handle vacations for themselves and others.

In the traditional train of thought work was so awful that you needed time off from it now and again. A week or two if you are in the United States, and 25 or more days if you live in other developed countries. Everyday stress is cited as that which you need to “get away” from. As if feeling stressed is just a fact of life. (I still believe stress is a symptom of some pretty toxic work woes, but let’s leave that for a later post.) Still, though most people recognize they are consistently stressed, many don’t take their vacation time! Some just fear losing their jobs or just letting their clients down. Some find there is nobody else to shoulder the load while they are gone.

What about people who love their work? Who don’t have a “job” but a higher calling? Who work for themselves? Do they need vacations? You might think “vacation” is just not in their vocabulary. Think again. Even if you are not worn out by stress, you still get tired. Especially if you are passionate about what you do and go full-out most of the time.

You might be surprised to know that the trend for "unlimited" vacation time yields higher productivity. Fastcompany reported in this article how different companies have explored the possibility for workers to decide when and how much time to take off.  Folks at The Motley Fool are even FORCED to take two weeks off! (I am SO considering that option for my workplace!) Leading change in this way is a natural, since the very nature of work has transformed so much.

Here are a few challenges for the traditional vacation model today:

  • Many companies are understaffed and it truly is difficult to take time off without affecting quality or service levels.
  • People take their work with them, literally, and continue to answer emails, cell phones, etc. This creates the illusion of time off but is sometimes even more difficult than staying in the office. Headaches ensue trying to catch up on email in the blazing sun at the beach.
  • Cycles of peak performance are necessary and many believe they will happen only if they are "always on". When a leader is strong and hard working, others get the impression that living up to the example means putting in an extra something...or everything.
  • As people choose their work freely they find their passion and are absolutely driven by it. People energized by their work might find it hard to believe that forgetting about it for a while will ignite their passion even more.
  • Summer might not be the best time for vacation in every line of work, or Easter, or December for that matter.

So, the question that started this post begs for an answer, but the solution may lie in the very definition of the concept behind the word vacation. What is it and what should it be now? What will work best for your specific situation and work? As any leadership issue, this is not open-and-shut and there is no one solution that fits all.

Since I am feeling very renewed by my recent two weeks off, here's the things I did differently this time around:

I allowed the first couple of days to "detox" from my regular flow. I didn't take off for the beach until I was two days into my vacation. So, as I prepped my bags and got myself ready, I heard my "monkey mind" as it went through all the things that could go wrong, or had to be done, or needed attention. Without giving in to the panic, I wrote each one down for the week of my return and wrote a few emails to my colleagues to take care of the ones I could delegate. Then, I was gone!

I let everyone know. Yes, automatic email notifications were in place. But also, I found myself telling most of my clients I would be away, and where I was going and how they could rely on the people at the office if they needed anything. I set the stage for NO urgent calls while I was away. And yes, I did take my computer and phone, just didn't answer them.

 I set my expectations for the coming of big ideas. I allowed the first couple of days to "detox" from my regular flow.  I DO love my work and as an entrepreneur, always connect the dots to my passion for doing what I do. So I did some serious speaking to myself about that. I took a moleskine wherever I went so I could jot down those great revelations that pop up when you are truly unwinding. I labeled the page "IDEA CATCHER" and made it a point to not act on any of it, just capture! By the time I came back, I was savoring the unleashing of it all.

I enjoyed myself at every moment. A guilt-free vacation is all about trusting the people back home to do their very best and just letting go. If every I started to fret, I put my attention back into my kid's smiles, my delicious drink or the lush surroundings. I did Tai Chi on the beach, laughed a lot, just chilled and remembered to have a vacation I would be envious of if someone else had it.

I took a week off back home. Tempting. That's what jumping right back into work sounded like, with all those ideas and relaxation behind me. But I wanted to enjoy my home and family. I decided to take an at-home refresher to show it's not the place, but the state of mind. I still kept my moleskine close by and did a lot of writing and reading. One of the big ideas I had? More mini-breaks BEFORE I need the two weeks off! Both for me, and my staff.

So what do you say? Do YOU need to re-define "vacation"? How would you? Add your insights so we can explore this together.

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