It’s a counterintuitive approach, but if you want to work smarter and be more productive, then take a few days off and go away on vacation. I realize that can be easier said than done for Freelancers and others in the billable hours universe. Especially in a soft economy, many of us are doing all we can to cover the monthly bills and the thought of slacking off on business pursuits is almost unthinkable.
Yet, numerous researchers have demonstrated that vacations are comparable to a process improvement in your business, resulting in increased productivity and efficiency. Vacation does not mean that you no longer value the clients. In order to avoid burnout and keep your batteries charged, taking time off and traveling to a place that allows you to relax and unwind is a wise business strategy that pays personal and professional dividends.
Every once in a while, humans need to forget about work and relax and enjoy ourselves. Recent research has shown that a three to five day mini-vacation, rather than the traditional two week time frame, gives the most enjoyment. As luck would have it, that is exactly what fits well into a Freelancer’s often erratic project-based schedule.
A 2010 study by Jeroen Nawijn, a lecturer at Breda University of applied Sciences in The Netherlands, found that for most people, the planning activities and anticipation provide more satisfaction than the actual vacation. Nawijn suggests that if possible, several three to five day trips should be scheduled throughout the year to reap the maximum benefits of the vacation experience, starting with the fun we have doing the planning and enjoying the anticipation of the big adventure. As further evidence, psychologists Leigh Thompson of Northwestern University and Terence Mitchell of the University of Washington came to the same conclusion in their 1997 study of the psychological effects of vacations for workers.
Thompson and Mitchell suggest that vacationers participate in activities that completely absorb their attention. Lolling on the beach and drinking pineapple rum punch is very nice, but activities are more effective in helping us to disengage from work and business pressures and get the process of true relaxation underway. That could be visiting museums, touring the city, hiking, touring vineyards, browsing at the bazaar, or whatever else strikes your fancy.
It’s also recommended that you unplug your electronic toys and take a break from email and voicemail. You might miss something, but you’ll get over it. In exchange, you’ll receive the many benefits our brains and psyches derive from decreased stress. A 2009 Boston Consulting Group study showed that taking time off results in improved communication skills, decision-making ability and problem-solving ability, plus decreased burnout and stress and higher productivity.
I guess we can sum it up by saying that if we don’t take a few days off work every now and again, we’ll just get tired and cranky and less effective. We also won’t absorb information or learn as well, which is why public schools give students 5 days off every three months or so.
I’m happy to tell all of you that I finally took a vacation myself, after not taking any time off in about three years. I spent 5 days on the coast of Maine. I did not check email or voicemail. I also missed my friend Jeremiah’s party (damn!), but what can I say? I had a great time soaking up sunshine, drinking wine, eating lobster, visiting art galleries and taking in the sights. I feel so much better!
Thanks for reading,