Over the holidays, I went to Puerto Rico to visit family for their annual Christmas Party. In the wake of Hurricane Maria, I didn’t know what to expect and arrived prepared for anything — from bringing fun, good energy to help my relatives take a break from the stress, to rolling up my sleeves and helping with the recovery.
Several years ago Life Magazine conducted the Great American Weekend Study, and discovered that 47% of people wait until Thursday night or later to plan their weekends. I don’t even need to tell you what happens when we wait too long to plan — the weekend slips through our fingers and before we know it, it’s Sunday night, and we didn’t do anything fun or refreshing.
The weather’s warming up, flip flops are emerging and kids are out of school. For lots of people, that spells vacation season. But not for everyone. Many of us get so wrapped up in our worklives that we don’t take all the time off we’re entitled to….or need. In fact, Americans only use about 77 percent of their paid time off, which translates to almost 430 million unused vacation days annually.
Demanding workloads, and the drive to compete lead many to believe sacrificing time off is the key to job survival. But peak performers know the opposite is true: folks who take most or all of their vacation time perform better, are more productive and more satisfied.
Still, it can be hard to take time off because we’re afraid of falling behind, and paying for it when we get back. The key is to be organized in order to fully enjoy and maximize the benefits of time off:
Think of your vacation as an investment in your performance. When you are recharged and rejuvenated, you have more energy, make fewer mistakes, and come up with more creative solutions to workplace problems. As an added bonus, the deadlines (of a flight or vacation time) force you to focus, eliminate unnecessary distractions, and get more done. Just think how clear your desktop gets right before you leave for vacation!
Vacation in short bites. Even two days away can improve your wellbeing, so consider scheduling a series of wonderful long weekends throughout the summer, if you can’t swing a full week or two. These mini-breaks refresh your spirit on a regular basis without sacrificing any work momentum and motivate you to stay focused during the workweek.
Prepare the people you work with. Starting one to two weeks before you leave, remind key players you interact with (supervisors, co-workers, key clients) the days you will be out of the office, so that they get deadline driven assignments to you in advance. Meet with any colleagues covering for you to pass along projects, giving them clear decision rights on things they can handle in your absence, and what constitutes an emergency worth contacting you for.
Pull the Plug. Ensure you are able to relax and recharge by limiting your contact with the office while on vacation. If you must check-in, give yourself a time limit like every other day or five minutes per. If you have prepped your colleagues and shared your contact information, they should be prepared to handle things while you are out and know how to find you should the need arise.
Build in re-entry time. Minimize the wall of stress that can hit on our first day back from vacation by planning. Get home early enough to unpack and get a good night’s sleep. Avoid meetings for the first half day back at the office. You’ll need time to catchup on what happened while you were gone before taking on new projects and assignments.
The good news is, it’s not just our time away that benefits us; we get an emotional reward from anticipating a vacation. So, get some use out of those flip flops—it’ll help your career, and your sanity.
Labor Day’s late arrival was a mixed blessing. It extended the lazy days of summer with extreme generosity—but now we feel pressured to make up for lost time. As we rush into fall routines, I’d like to suggest you focus on a critical task: Sleep.
That might seem counterintuitive when you feel like you never have enough hours in the day. But sleep deprivation is epidemic , and it steals your energy and productivity. Studies also show it can lead to weight gain, memory problems, irritability, and even illness.
A sleep study released just last week found that people who sleep six hours a night or less are four times more likely to catch a cold, compared to those who spend more than seven hours in slumber land.
Here's how to get the sleep you need:
Change your mindset. Consider whether you think of sleep as the end of one day, or the beginning of the next? Folks who think of sleep as the end of the day often have trouble letting go at night – like little kids who refuse to leave a party for fear of missing out on some fun. Try flipping your thinking—when you view sleep as the beginning of the next day, you can’t wait to get into bed and recharge your batteries.
Give yourself time. If you have kids, put them to bed at least 90 minutes before your own bedtime so you can chill out.
Unplug. Set an alarm to go off at least 60 minutes before bed, which indicates it’s time to shut down all devices….no more email, social media, online shopping, or cat videos. While we often turn to them to unwind, research shows they stir us up. Cover all electronics that emit light in your bedroom (alarm clocks, laptops, cable boxes, etc.) Those hazy green lights can make it hard to relax.
Establish a soothing routine. Try deep stretches, soft music, a cup of herbal tea or an almond-cherry smoothie. Lay out your clothes for the next day, walk around the house locking the doors, straighten the sofa pillows and bookshelves if that relaxes you. Try spraying your pillow with lavendar. Read a great book in bed (but not on a tablet that tempts you to surf!), or meditate.
Give it a month. Building a new routine takes time and practice. For the rest of September, keep a daily log of whether you succeeded in your sleep goals, reflecting on what worked, what didn’t, and why. Then make adjustments until your sleep routine is as automatic as brushing your teeth. The payoff: Fewer colds, sharper focus, and the energy to bring the best of yourself to your work, friends, family, and goals.
Let me know how these techniques worked for you. To sleep, perchance to dream!