Make vacation work for you

As a business owner, my most recent vacation got me thinking a lot about how taking time off can be good for business. Whether it’s a two-week vacation, a sabbatical, a staycation, a long weekend, or even a mental health day in the middle of the week, breaks from work are healthy and can be extremely productive. Here’s how. Let your mind go there.

For most of us, it takes a few days on the front end of a vacation to truly unwind. As hard as we try to totally unplug on vacation, it’s likely we’ll still occasionally think about a work-related project, dynamic or challenge. When it happens, try this.

Instead of pushing the work thought away because it’s so very taboo to think of work on your vacation, give yourself a bit of space—and permission—to ponder the topic.

Spend a few minutes allowing your mind to think about the situation and see what comes up for you. Take a note or two, and then move on to zip lining, mountain climbing, pub-crawling, pool lounging, or whatever your idea of downtime is.

Pull your notes out when you’re back at the office and see if there was anything to your relaxed meanderings. Science backs the notion that our brain operates better, more productively and creatively, when we give it a minute now and then to rest. Multi-tasking does NOT foster problem solving, but downtime (it’s a fact!), does.

To sum it up: Rest and novelty incubate fresh ideas. Remain open to new solutions and approaches rather than shutting off all work thoughts.

Prioritize — short and long term

If you’re like me, you check email a teeny tiny bit while you are on vacation. At some point, you look down at that Mail icon on your phone and think, “I’ll just skim through email. See if there are any emergencies.”

Cautionary note: On an innocent “vacation email skim”, I tuned into a client situation that I could do nothing to solve from my location, but it totally bummed me out. Man, how I wish I would NOT have skimmed email on that trip. But that was so 2014.

When you do decide to skim your work email, pay attention to which emails you passed right over and which you take the time to read. Which did you feel compelled to respond to? This is a direct roadmap to the hot points, or areas that need more tending. Make sure the areas where you took the time out of your vacation to respond were worth the investment and will pay off, not just in the moment but in the long run as well.

To sum it up: Pay attention to where you focus your energy—workwise—when you’re supposed to be turned off. It reveals the hot points in your business.

Break your routine

If you are a routine person, then going on vacation is a definite break in the routine. Preparing for the trip, taking the trip, and returning home from the trip is a journey in letting go of predictable schedules, a giving up of control.

On the other hand, if you are NOT a routine person (I am not), then taking a long vacation is a practice in getting used to a different type of schedule. I found that every day on vacation pulled me into a sort of luxurious flow that I definitely don’t have at home. I loved the predictability of my days on vacation, and it put my brain on high alert to notice creative ideas about how to work differently, and better.

Again, brain science is in strong support of going single focus, and giving our brains a rest. A weary brain simply cannot make decisions the same way a rested brain can. I felt that on my vacation, and I leaned into it from creative and strategy perspectives.

To sum it up: Stepping out of your routine gives you a fresh opportunity to single-task, even if it's on a luxurious vacation routine.

Lessons learned when you unplug

Unplugging is risky. If you are the linchpin for too many decisions at work, that’s not good. (First off, I can feel an ulcer coming on. Face it: it’s not scalable.) On the flip side, if things run more smoothly while you’re away, that’s not always good either. (Our worst fear, “They don’t even need me!”)

For most, it’s something in between. Want to know the ways you are and are not indispensable to your team, in your role, to your company and clients? Go away on vacation and see how things shake out.

Upon your return, be intentional about taking inventory on where your team, your clients and your projects needed you. Where did things run just fine, and where did things go even more smoothly without your involvement?

From there, you can home in on your (indispensable) efforts, and try to delegate the transferable ones. Strategic delegation is a business skill that is invaluable to individual and company growth. Yes, it takes time and dedication, but if done successfully, it pays off.

To sum it up: Giving your team autonomy and independence will illuminate where you’re most needed, and where you can take a step back.

All this to say: take vacations! Take long ones, short ones, whatever you can swing. I am lucky to have a business partner who supports my wanderlust and works doubly hard while I’m away (as I will when she welcomes her daughter into the world in a few months). Staycations count as well. Take breaks, rest your brain, and from that more distant vantage-point, take time to pay attention to what shows up in that downtime, and put it to use for good when you return to the Monday–Friday grind.

Kari Olivier worked in various corporate marketing roles before migrating to the agency side. Kari is a writer, workshop facilitator, marketing strategist, and advisor to leaders at Fortune 500 companies and SMBs. She is co-founder of Jute Creative, a branding, marketing and communications agency in Portland, Oregon.

Tagged in:
Career development, Creativity, Jute Creative, Personal development, Productivity, Thought leadership, Time management

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