Three ways to take a break this holiday season

When I worked at a New York City museum I was surprised to learn that some employees who had been working there for years had amassed months worth of unused vacation days.  These same colleagues felt burned out, jaded and disengaged from their jobs.  At another organization where I worked, there was a policy of mandating that all employees use their vacation days within the fiscal year after some workers went years without taking a vacation.

This reluctance to going away is understandable: many nonprofit employees are invested in their work and might feel too overwhelmed to take a vacation. However, spending some time away from work can have distinct benefits that actually make you more productive and effective.

Why you should take a vacation

Let’s start with the physical and emotional: several studies, reported on by the New York Times and the Harvard Business Review, find that taking vacation lowers stress levels, the risk of heart attack, promotes good sleep, and encourages family bonding and overall well being.

It never hurts to come back to work happier and healthier. Additionally, in my own experience, one of the greatest career boosting elements of taking a vacation is the clarity you develop around your work:

  • You can reflect on your accomplishments and identify next steps for yourself
  • You gain perspective and new ideas by trying something completely outside of your daily routine
  • You can find new ideas or solutions to an old problem: Ideas often appear when you are relaxed and your mind can wander

So how do you set yourself up for vacation success?

Plan before you go

Before stepping away, prioritize essential business, delegate tasks that still need doing, and communicate where your colleagues can find any information that they might need while you are away. Trust your colleagues to handle situations that come up, knowing that you would want them to put the same trust in you.

Start small

If you are traveling, chose a trip that has a low stress level. For example, unless you are an adventure seeker, traveling to the wilds of Alaska in winter might not be for you.  If you are traveling with family make sure you have time to bond and do things together, but also make time for yourself.

Limit connections

If you just can’t cut the chord on your smart phone, set a limited time each day to check in, say 15 minutes to skim your emails and check your voicemail and respond to whatever is pressing, and then leave the rest.

If you take the risk to let go, you’ll find that your break, whether its several days or several weeks, will enable you to come back to work energized and refreshed, with greater perspective, new ideas, and perhaps an improved attitude that your coworkers may appreciate as well.

What are your strategies for preparing to “get away from it all” and what are some benefits that time away has brought to your work? 

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Eleanor C. Whitney is a writer, arts administrator and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently a Program Officer at the New York Foundation for the Arts and is the author of Grow: How to Take Your Do It Yourself Project and Passion to the Next Level and Quit Your Job, released in 2013 on Cantankerous Titles.
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