I have recently returned from 6 weeks leave, including a month with my family traveling in the West Coast of the United States. Apart from the obvious joy in spending time with my wife and daughters, a few other important observations reminded me of the importance of stepping away from the day-to-day roles I have.
Taking a break and removing yourself from the routines and ‘busyness’ of the modern daily grind is more important than ever. This topic is quite relevant at the moment, particularly in Australia as the school holidays are on and many of us are just returning to work after a break over the Christmas and New Year period. Making change to your lifestyle does not have to be a New Years resolution, which may not be sustained over time, but should derive from a level of self-awareness about what is working well for each of us and recognition/action around areas that could be improved. Beyond holidays, the period when returning to work from a holiday is a good time to refocus efforts on how to operate during the day whilst at work, at home and other times. This focus minimises the risk of burn-out and the expectation that holidays and extended breaks are to be the restoration ‘catch-all’ that they often need to be.
British researcher Scott McCabe noted that vacations’ personal benefits have been found to include: rest and recuperation from work; provision of new experiences leading to a broadening of horizons and the opportunity for learning and intercultural communication; promotion of peace and understanding; personal and social development; visiting friends and relatives; religious pilgrimage and health; and, subjective wellbeing. The benefits of vacations extend to family relationships. An international group of researchers led by Purdue University Xinran Lehto concluded that family vacations contribute positively to family bonding, communication and solidarity. Vacations promote what is called the “crescive bond” (in sociological parlance, a “shared experience”) by fostering growing and enduring connections. Shared family memories and time spent together isolated from ordinary everyday activities (school, work, and so on) help to promote these positive ties. Though family vacations can have their own share of stress, the benefits outweigh the risks. (1) The disconnection afforded from a vacation can help us relieve stress, improve mood, and see the bigger picture. The anticipation of an upcoming vacation can boost well-being for up to eight weeks prior to the trip, according to a 2010 study in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life. (2)
It is not only the type of break that a vacation or extended holiday provides that has benefit. How we operate during the day has a marked effect also. One of the core goals this year is to better utilise my time and how I apply breaks each day so that there is less of a ‘need’ to look forward to or expect that my holiday time is going to perform the miracle of restoring my energy and offer a period of relaxation that re-energises me. Discovery has shown me that this is unlikely based on experience – how I manage my time and energy every day has a much more significant impact on my resilience, tolerance and patience. It does not work if I wait for this balance to occur during a holiday, so a focus on how I operate daily provides a more sustainable, effective mindset. The alternative is like a short-term sugar high…the effect is short-lived and non-sustainable.
Though breaks might seem counterproductive, they’re more important than ever in the 24/7 workplace of constant connectivity and non-stop streams of email. We’re constantly checking and updating our email, Twitter and Facebook in addition to the other work we’re doing, and frequently we forgo real breaks in favor of cyber-loafing or Facebook-updating. There’s no way to perform at your highest level without allowing time for rest. Over long periods of working, the brain uses up oxygen and glucose, its primary form of energy. (2)
My most recent holiday was outstanding for many reasons whilst it also provided an opportunity to reflect on other aspects of my life. During this period I recognised the areas that could be improved even further related to the lifestyle, holidays and choices that assist to make the difference for myself, my business and my family. Some of these may be of relevance to you:
- A family or group holiday provides the opportunity to reconnect with those who are most important to you. This may sound obvious but you have to spend time with others to ensure the rich relationships that have been developed over time remain strong.
- The inverse of point 1, it is as important to ensure you take some time for yourself. This should be part of your normal rhythm at any time and matters just as much when on holidays when you are often trying to fit in as much as possible as it does during the normal routines of everyday life.
- Related to point 2, the ability to ‘switch off’ and focus on the now, even when on holidays provides a level of balance. I am fascinated by the brain and its workings. We continue to learn more about how the brain works and recent research reinforces the importance of neuroplasticity and mindfulness – keeping the brain active through varied and challenging actions and focusing on the current, at its most simplistic level.
- Schedule social media commitments. There are many tools available that allow you to ‘pre-schedule’ your social media activities to ensure you are able to switch off but maintain a presence and consistency on social media. This is important for me as I have worked hard to develop a web presence, so the idea of taking a month off and not maintaining some contact is counter-intuitive, however by using Hootsuite as I do, I was able to maintain an overview presence during the month without taking much out of my holiday time at all.
- Ensure that the wonders that are provided through modern technology are used to your advantage, not disadvantage. For instance, it could be easily argued that email and mobile are as big a time-waster and hindrance as a benefit. Of course, how they are used has a major impact either way, like many things in life.
- The need for a full and restful sleep is an imperative. Being a light sleeper means that I have to be conscious of getting the right length and depth of sleep. This has an immediate impact on my energy levels, motivation for exercise and tolerance.
- The need for holidays with family; my wife and I only; and short breaks for us an individuals each provide benefits and fulfillment.
Taking holidays and breaks regularly are important. I have always been surprised by those people who accrue their leave over many years, rarely taking a break, although ironically they are often the people who most need a break in my experience. How we function day-to-day is as important as when and how often we take a holiday. These are choices that require focus and attention which has been brought to life for me in recent weeks…what do you need to work on?