Many of us have an aversion to using our vacation time. This seems to be more prevalent in the United States than in the rest of the world, and I’m not sure why, since we get fewer days off than most other countries. For some of us, we just feel too guilty about taking days off. We think our workplace will shut down if we’re not there to pull our weight. Others get a similar vibe (either real or perceived) from their managers or co-workers. In any case, think about how many times you’ve heard yourself or one of your colleagues say “I have too much to do and can’t get away” as you bury yourself further into another project.
This article from Information Week says that less than half of America’s workforce use all of their vacation days. I know folks who proudly say “I haven’t used my vacation time in years!” It’s true that many of us may not be able to use the whole two weeks every year. But for some (and you know who you are) shutting down the laptop or Blackberry, leaving the cell on vibrate (or—gasp!—leaving it at home), or letting the paperwork go for a even few days is unthinkable. But for our own physical, mental, and emotional well-being, it’s important to get away for a few days and recharge those batteries.
Signs That You Need a Vacation
You say you can keep going without any time off? If you regularly put in 10 or 12-hour workdays, it’s going to catch up with you after a while. If you keep up that pace for weeks or months, your body will simply start wearing out. You’ll also have to take a look at the work you’ve been doing in that time—is it really your best effort?
Think people won’t notice that you’re starting to get burned out? The next time you’re stuck at the office for what seems like days on end, see how many co-workers, friends, or good old Mom ask you “Are you okay? You look tired”. Or, if you’re starting to notice any of these symptoms, you may want to pencil in a few days off to decompress:
- Inability to concentrate
- Memory loss
- Eye strain (from staring at a computer screen for a long stretch)
- Dark circles under your eyes from lack of sleep
Too much stress or overwork without time off can lead to more serious health problems in the future. The short list includes:
- High blood pressure (which can lead to a stroke or heart attack)
- Weight gain (from eating quick, easy, but usually unhealthy meals on the run)
- Bouts of insomnia
- Hair loss
- Digestive problems
- Skin problems such as eczema
If you suffer from any of these conditions already, prolonged stress can make them worse. Though it’s admirable to plow through the mountain of work on your desk day in and day out, if you have any of the above symptoms, you have to ask yourself if risking your health for the sake of your job is really worth it. Wrap up any current projects and tell your boss that you’ll be unavailable for a few days next week. Chances are your work performance and those who’ve been putting up with your grumpy moods will thank you.
What to Do on Days Off
It sounds hard to believe, but I know people who just don’t know what to do with themselves when they get a little bit of free time. High-energy folks who always need to be doing something might see vacation days as the kiss of death. But relax! It’s not a crime to take a day or two off to just do nothing. For me, every vacation day I’ve used in the past year was to go on a trip of some kind. My holidays off have been filled with visiting family and friends, with very little down time for myself. My random vacation days were spent getting caught up on freelance assignments. Finally, my July 4th holiday this year was reserved for me—I purposely did nothing all day. I got my picnicking, fireworks, and obligatory quality time with friends and family out of the way early in the weekend, and that day was just for myself. Try it sometime. Lay around in your pajamas all day. Read a book. Organize your closet. Go shopping. Really take the day off.
But if you don’t want to have a totally open calendar for your vacation days, here are a few ideas:
Plan a full-fledged vacation.
Think big. Drive across the state or country. Go on a cruise. Hike the Himalayas or go rafting on the Colorado River.
Visit friends in another state.
Combine two of my favorite things—road tripping and seeing friends you don’t see that often. Check out what’s happening where they are. Or book a flight and meet them in their nearest big city.
Play tourist in your hometown.
If a big trip isn’t in your budget (or if you don’t have the days to spare), look around you—you can probably make a perfectly nice vacation out of your local landmarks, tourist attractions. Go camping in your nearest state park. Convince your friends or family to take a few days off and visit an amusement park. Check out the historical attractions near you. Chances are you haven’t been to the places with history and character galore that are literally steps away from where you live. And if you’re in a city—even better. You can cover more ground in a day than most visitors since you know your way around.
What about you? Do you use all of your vacation time? Do you have enough vacation time? Why or why not?
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