Going on Vacation might seem counterproductive to all the Type A’s in my reading audience; “I can’t be productive if I am on vacation.” Without vacation, you cannot be productive at work for the long term. In one period of my life, I was managing the studio operations for a major television network, and we were launching a new state of the art studio. During this time, I was working thirteen to fourteen hour days, seven days a week; it was a fun and exhilarating work, but after two to three months, my productivity at work was about seventy-five percent of what it had been when we started the project. Additionally, I was making judgmental mistakes and becoming irritable. In fact, all of my colleagues and I were. The vice-president sent us all home on a Friday afternoon and told us not to return until Monday morning. It was the best thing he could have done for the team and our productivity.
In today’s work environment, we tend to focus our energy on the tasks at hand, churning through the day’s to-do list and moving on to the next “important” item. As we do this, our brain is consuming twenty percent of the energy our body is producing and even more when we focus on high-level problem solving (Raichel, University of Washington). It is no wonder; we are all exhausted at the end of the day.
In looking at high performing athletes, musicians, and artists, researchers noted that most engage in deliberate practice for periods of no more than four hours. Researchers found that any amount of time above this, negatively impact performance, increasing physical injuries and mental fatigue (Ericson, Florida State University). Now, I don’t think we will change the eight-hour work structure any time soon, but I do believe that we need to look at the lack of rest on our performance.
Without rest (time away from work), our brain and body are challenged to produce the necessary energy to perform continuously at a high level. The side effects of too much work, not enough play, include poor decision making, higher levels of stress, and lower levels of performance. In Europe and other industrialized economies vacation is highly valued with mandatory vacation days reaching as high as twenty days per year. In the United States, only half the working population gets any paid vacation days and those that do average around eight days.
Going on vacation, allows us to reduce stress, recharges our bodies and gives our brains a chance to replenish itself. According to Ferris Jaber at Scientific America, “Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance. . .” If we don’t have downtime, our brain continues to work but will slowly reduce its output impacting all areas of our lives.
My advice – take a long vacation and enjoy some downtime, reset yourself for the fourth quarter push we all know is around the bend. You will thank me later.