Take Time Off Work for Increased Productivity

The Importance of regular rest, relaxation and leisure for maximising performance and wellbeing.

It has become common for professionals to complain that they have not taken a proper holiday in a long time, sometimes even years. This has become a growing and worrying trend where people give up their breaks from work in order to cope with the increasing demands of their jobs. While hard work and dedication are virtues to be admired, taking time off work on a regular basis is essential for wellbeing, physical and psychological health, productivity and preventing burnout.

Researcher and author Shawn Achor, concluded that “the greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy is a positive and engaged brain. For our brain to be truly engaged and work at its best it needs regular breaks”. Scientists have proven that that taking time away from work can lead to a decrease in cluttered grey matter function. Our brain needs time to quiet down and reorganize itself especially when our job consists of a fast-paced work style, complex problem solving, heavy demands and tight deadlines.

So what is the ideal time-off pattern that one should adopt in order to maximize productivity and promote personal wellbeing? To begin with we must recognize that there is no ideal formula. Each of us has different needs and varied circumstances that determine the amount of rest and leisure we require.

However, the research offers us some general recommendations. We need to take regular short breaks during our working day, at least one day off during the week, the occasional short two-day break during the year and at least one long vacation of ten to fifteen days once a year. These breaks are important in their own way. While short breaks are useful to keep us going and preventing us from burning out, longer breaks are real opportunities to wind down and really create a healthy disconnection from work where we can truly relax and “recreate” ourselves. Being away from work for stretches of time of one or two weeks allows us to gain a fresh perspective and look at our work more objectively within the context of our life in general. This is not easy to do when we are immersed in the daily incessant and relentless demands of our job.

It can be especially hard to achieve when we regard our work as a career and mission rather than just a job. This happens because of our high personal involvement and investment in our work and because we carry it out with a deep sense of commitment. As a result we may find it difficult to detach and disconnect from our professional role even if it is for just a couple of weeks a year. I like to call this the “Indispensability Trap”. This is a particularly dangerous mindset that can eventually lead to burnout. It is therefore important to integrate mini, short, medium and long breaks during our working life to make sure that we maintain a sense of health and balance in the longer term.

Moreover, breaks need to be part of our overall work-life balance that is more than just taking time off work. It includes a holistic perspective that integrates our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. In the long term this approach to life is what enables us to reach our full potential and maximize our talents, productivity and performance.

So what recommendations could you follow in order to get the highest benefit from your vacation time? The following are some research-based tips for maximizing the positive impact of your holidays.

  1. Detox digitally – try to limit to an absolute minimum the level of technology you engage in during your vacation. The constant bombardment of messages and demands on your attention from social media, e-mails, text messages, phone calls, etc. puts a toll on your mental wellbeing. If you have to respond to e-mails or other messages during your vacation, allocate a specific time during the day to attend to them and then try to switch yourself off. Make sure you activate a good “out of office” responder that covers you for urgent matters on your e-mail so you can put your mind at rest.

  2. Do not take your work on vacation! – As much as possible avoid taking your work with you on your holidays. Many professionals find this very hard to accomplish. However if you truly want to unwind and relax you need to disconnect mentally from your work and not just physically. This can be hard to achieve and having your work with you does not help. While your body may be on holiday your mind may be still whizzing away thinking of work.

  3. Choose vacations that help you to really relax – Many people opt for activity packed, fast paced hectic holidays where they practically mirror their normal lifestyle. The idea of a relaxing holiday is to allow your mind to slow down, unwind and declutter. Try not to pack every moment of the day with activity. Create the space to be able to “take your time” and absorb the experience whether it is having breakfast, exploring a new area or enjoying a view.

  4. Create a post-vacation buffer zone – Many people complain about the barrage of e-mails they find lurking in their inbox when they return from their holidays. One way of avoiding this overwhelming feeling is to ease into work by allocating a “buffer day”. This means that you dedicate your first day back at work to sort out e-mails. No meetings, phone calls or responding to client or colleague requests. If necessary, shorten your vacation by a day and dedicate that day for a gentle re-entry to work rather than hitting the ground running.

In conclusion, time off work on a regular basis should be taken seriously and not regarded as a luxury. When integrated with a balanced lifestyle it will make us more productive, creative and efficient in our work. It also makes us happier and healthier individuals.

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