A break may come in different forms, whether it is a vacation from work, a mandatory sick leave, or the taking of some “me” time during a hiatus or a stay-cation. Whatever way you get to take a break, honor it for whatever it is and however it comes. It is a valuable benefit that will make you a better employee or a better person in general.
I am telling you this, as much as I am reminding myself, because as a recovering workaholic, usually taking a break is foreign to me. However, recently I took a stay-cation that reminded me how grand relaxing can be, even when you are just cleaning the house or clearing the cobwebs from your mind. What made it so enjoyable for me is that I mentally slowed things down. I gallivanted and did a ton a things that I really wanted to do but never made the time for.
But according to a study commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association, many Americans are hesitant to take their allotted vacation and sick leave time, and this can hurt their company’s overall productivity and bottom line. A Forbes magazine article underscores the financial benefits of allowing employees to take their leave, and shows other key reasons why taking a break does not make you a wimp:
“If workers used all of their available paid time off, the economy would benefit from more than $160 billion in total business sales and $21 billion in tax revenues – spending that would support 1.2 million jobs in industries ranging from retail to manufacturing to transportation.”
So, have a positive attitude about taking time off. Vacations are good for your health and good for business! Here are 10 tips for separating your work life from your real life and recharging your body and spirit:
1. Don’t show up at your office and work when you should be on vacation.
Showing up at work may look admirable and impressive in the eyes of your colleagues and boss, but more often than not, it comes back to bite you later when you finally decide you need a break. Your employer may already have gotten into the habit of expecting you to deliver even though you are due legal absence. Setting yourself up for this kind of over-promising is not worth it – especially when you can’t keep it up. Most times, you lose out in the end.
2. If you decide to stay home on your leave, don’t take office work home, and don’t tell colleagues you are close by and available.
Be grateful for the time off and use the opportunity to get more in touch with your non-work self. Catch up on sleep and tend to your plants, pets, and family.
3. Take the time to do some of the things you have been yearning to do but have never quite found the time.
Now that you have some time, don’t get busy doing things that don’t contribute to your overall well-being. Think about all the things you have wanted to do but have said, “If I could only find the time.” There is no hidden time. Just take what is available.
Make a short list of tasks you’ve always wanted to get done, but never had the time, and divide them into categories like Grimy and Fun, or whatever names you like. Then decide which Grimy task you will match with the Fun task. Try zigzagging until you are finished … just remember to make the last task you do one of the Fun ones. At the end of the day, organizing a mess or repainting your room will give you more clarity, enabling you to function better. You will have a shorter to-do list and a feeling of real accomplishment (and what a great example to set for your kids!).
4. Don’t do anything.
It may seem un-American to not be productive, but it’s OK not to have an agenda during your break from work. There is no hard-and-fast rule that you have to be doing something. Just simply do nothing if that is how you feel, or explore yoga and meditation. You may be surprised how much you can accomplish when you are doing absolutely nothing!
5. Listen to your body.
When we get sick, we often feel guilty that we are on sick leave, especially if we are still able to move around. We also fear that if we get sick, our employer may feel we are dispensable. So, we attempt to prove them otherwise by showing up sick and/or carrying out work activities while at home – thus, missing out on the rare opportunity to allow our bodies to heal and regenerate.
If you don’t take ample time to recover, eventually you will be out of a job – period. You will actually be racking up more sick leave because you didn’t give your body the time out it needed. You need to be 100% healthy for your sake, and your employer needs an employee that is 100% too (and he/she doesn’t need you to infect the whole staff with the latest flu virus). Take the full time you get; use it to rest; and enjoy being isolated. Then when it’s over, go back to work in full force. You will be able to give much more when you feel better. In the end, it’s a win-win situation.
6. Get involved in learning a new game or skill, or taking a Salsa or Meringue dance class.
Pull out that craft project you got for Christmas four years ago; learn to fly fish or take a gardening or cooking class; dust off your golf clubs or basketball gear; go see a live play or musical; take your kids or grandkids to a natural science museum; volunteer for an organization that you care deeply about; organize your kitchen; or go to the beach and dive into that juicy book you’ve been waiting to read. It doesn’t so much matter what you choose to do – just do something that makes you move, think and feel differently than you would at work.
Learning these new skills increases your creativity quotient and gives you the opportunity to meet new people and laugh about your mistakes together.
7. Take a discovery walk.
During this walk, take notice of everything around you. Notice the hint of green in the trees and weeds along the sidewalk in the spring, their quiet grey during the winter, or their brilliant array of colors in the summer. Listen for birds, and try to find with your ears and eyes the specific one or group that is chattering or singing at their loudest as you are passing by. Catch a quick glimpse of squirrels disappearing into the trees. Observe the people you encounter on your walks; look at their faces, their expressions, and their eyes and send them peace as you walk on. This helps you develop awareness of the uniqueness of the world surrounding you. It also gives you a worthwhile break from your daily drill, as you allow yourself to go slow enough to experience truly being alive.
8. Take a vacation in a country with a different language and / or culture.
(Being from Jamaica, I would recommend visiting there because, although we speak English, we also speak Patois, a “pigeon” English pronounced Pat-Wah. The deeper you travel into the country, the more foreign the English sounds. It is like a different language, and understanding requires intent listening…that needs serious interpretation…LOL :)). Pack your suitcase, and leave your preconceived notions and fears at home. Seeing life through another culture’s eyes can make us feel less like the center of the universe and more like just another traveler of life. Touring less industrialized countries is especially valuable, as it hits home the fact that our problems are not as huge as we inflate them to be. Much of the world wonders where their next meal will come from – not what’s on TV tonight or what sports team is in first place.
Immerse yourself in the new language for the time you are there. Think nothing of home – just these new people, new sights, new sounds, new smells, and new customs. Your logical thinking will start gearing down, giving your mind the break it needs and allowing your other sensory organs to become sharper. This will help you to quiet the jabber in your brain, and make it easier for you to easily return to this state of nothingness again. A quieter mind will allow you to tap into your creative reserves (and prevent you from needing to climb atop your desk and scream).
9. Take a musical break.
Put in your favorite upbeat music or something you have never listened to before (or even something you wouldn’t be caught alive listening to). Dance, jump, jitterbug – whatever! If you have two left feet, use your shoulders, and snap your fingers along to the beat. No one is watching you…so have yourself a ball. If you have company, such as your children, friends, spouse or family, mess around with them until they all join in. If they refuse, don’t despair, have your own dance party. If you feel inner resistance, just remember yourself dancing and how different you felt when you allowed music to set you free.
10. Take a Mental Break and avoid a mental breakdown.
Find a Life Coach, Creativity Coach, Mentor or an experienced friend or confidant who keeps it real. This would be someone who is honest about how they navigate the complexities of life, and will listen to your many voices because they appreciate who you are. Then, just break loose talking non-stop until you start feeling the lightness of opening up and being mentally naked with someone you can trust. You will realize the value of a support system that helps you get over mental humps or mental fog, and move forward on your path to bigger and better things.
Don’t buy into the myth that taking vacations or a much-needed break for yourself is loser or wimpy behavior!
Seize that moment, and don’t feel guilty about your time off. It’s good for your health and peace of mind, it’s good for your company, and it will improve the morale of your family and your workplace too.
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