Last week, I did something I haven’t done since I starting working as a self-employed writer and consultant full-time in 1994: I took a real vacation for eight whole days. Granted, two of those days were more or less lost to the time required to travel from my home in central Texas to the San Diego area, but six of those days involved nothing more than making sure my eight-year old son and wife had the time of their lives exploring nearby attractions, amusement parks, dining establishments and the beach, while making the most of our hotel stay and lack of usual household chores and responsibilities. The only thing I did that was remotely work-related was to check e-mail on my iPhone once a day, just to make sure nothing had blown up or gone amiss to the point where I would have to fire up my PC, roll up my sleeves, and do some real work. Fortunately for me and my family, nothing like that came up and we were all able to enjoy ourselves, the scenery, and our activities without me peeling off all day long to pound at the keyboard, attend meetings, answer phone calls, and yada yada yada.
I did go through some withdrawal during the week away from my desk, and I did suffer occasional feelings of guilt or responsibility along the lines of “I should be working.” But instead, we got to visit some cool amusement parks (LegoLand and SeaWorld), the fabulous San Diego zoo, and the “Silver Strand” beaches near the far end of the Coronado peninsula across the bay from San Diego. And upon my return home, I soon found myself right back in the swing of things and hard at work, though I was surprised to have only 90-odd emails that I actually had to read, and about half of which required some kind of response, during my first two days back at my desk (today is my third day back at work, which gives me the opportunity to compare the work mindset to the vacation mindset, and see some value in both states).
On the whole, I have to say that taking some real time away from work was quite refreshing. I’m humping away at a bit of a backlog with more verve and energy than usual, but am also glad to be back into my normal routine and interested in lots of projects and activities now underway or coming soon into my inbox. A real break proved to boost my energy level and my zest for work, and also helped me to appreciate many things I really like about my job, my work situation, my colleagues and co-workers, and life at home.
As an added bonus, we all got to see some interesting sights, visit some great places, and get an infusion of something new and different outside the “same old, same old.” I hope my son will carry the memories of his San Diego visit pleasantly and proudly for the rest of his life, and I hope he’ll acquire a taste for new people and places from time to time as well. They help add interest to life, but also help us appreciate the joys and splendors of home life and the usual routine.
It’s no wonder that productivity studies show that Americans who do take regular vacations are more productive than those who keep their noses incessantly to the grindstone and take no such regular breaks. Sadly, Americans take fewer and shorter vacations than people from most other first-world countries. Do yourself a favor: take an occasional break from your work routine. Even if you can’t afford to travel, get out of your workplace and your usual rut and do something different, even if only for the odd long weekend here and there. It will not only help you refresh yourself and recharge your batteries, it will also make you more grateful for the work you do and the life you lead. It worked for me, so it should hopefully also work for you!