Are You Taking Enough Vacation?

Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.


One day, my boss called me into his office and asked, “Are you stupid?”  I had no idea what he was talking about.  Maybe I mishandled a file or made some kind of serious mistake.  He went on.  “You’ve capped out your vacation and just lost eight hours.  If you don’t want your vacation, I’ll take it.”

Admittedly, I’m terrible at taking significant vacation time.  For the past several years, it’s been a week in the summer (for a family trip), a week at the end of the year (Christmas/New Year) and the one off-day or maybe two days for quick getaways.

I’m in the majority with other Americans.  Apparently we are #1 at being the worst at vacation-taking (I always thought it was the Japanese who created the word “karoshi” – which literally means “drop dead from work.”)  Consider this:

  • Average vacation days used is 12
  • Roughly 25% of Americans don’t take vacation at all
  • Most Americans are likely to call into a meeting while on vacation (I’ve seen this personally plenty of times), work during vacation, or be technologically-attached (cell phone, e-mail, computer, etc.)

Why don’t we take vacation?  I’d like to say that we love our job too much (although a very small percentage might say so), but more than likely it’s probably other things:

Fear: I’m too busy, have too much going on, and am afraid of what my desk and e-mail will look like when I get back.  It will take me a week just to catch up.

Money: I don’t have the extra cash to spend on a vacation right now.  Maybe after I get that bonus or save a little.  Then I’ll take a real vacation.

And Do What?: Sadly, for some people, work is such a significant part of their life, they wouldn’t know what to do on vacation.  Their social life and daily activities are too tied up in the office.

According to Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz in “The Power of Full Engagement”, humans are just not built to work at a steady state with no breaks.  Like athletes, the average worker needs periodization, or times of stress followed by significant breaks.  This allows the mind and body to rest and recover for the next challenge.  Without these breaks, we’re more susceptible to decreased performance, illness, and even death.

So what should we do?

Plan: Make your vacation plans well in advance.  Make sure they’re more than the average 12 days.  Each year, take out the calendar, identify those days, and inform your work.  This way, you can plan your work flow around these days; plus, you can’t back out because you’ve already committed yourself.

Build it around something: We went to Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida this summer – something my daughter had been dreaming (and talking) about for the past few years.  A friend of mine went to the UFC Expo in Las Vegas.  I keep joking that Comicon San Diego will be our next family trip.  In other words, vacation around something that excites or motivates you.  Maybe you’ve always wanted to see Mount Rushmore or the Statue of Liberty.  Get online and start researching.

Disconnect: Don’t call into work.  Don’t be “that guy” who’s eating at Disneyland with his family while checking his e-mail.  Don’t go back to the hotel room and start working on your laptop.  Disconnect means to let go of the office entirely (as hard as that may be for some) and allow your mind to think and focus on something else for a change.

Get your desk squared away: Complete major projects (and don’t take on any new ones).  Let people know you’ll be gone.  Secure your back-up help.  Doing whatever it takes to clean up your desk and any pending work will ease that nagging feeling of “I have to do this and that when I get back.”  There’s no better feeling than starting your vacation “light” with nothing pressing going on at work.

I’m still working on being a better vacation-taker.  I’m getting better, though.  Maybe it was the cancer or seeing others I know get sick, but I realize I should be enjoying my time off – not stressing about it.  Thankfully,  it’s been a long time since my boss had to ask me, “Are you stupid?”

How much vacation did you take this year?