Most everyone will agree that having a vacation on the horizon is exciting. Yet 55% of Americans don’t take their all their vacation time. Americans have been conditioned to believe that fun and leisure time are less important than getting ahead and climbing the corporate ladder.
It can seem frivolous, irresponsible, or even unproductive to take time to relax and unwind when there is a long to do list of more practical and important things to get done.
What we fail to realize is that we need downtime to recharge our brains and our bodies. We also need it to keep us from burnout.
So what if having more fun meant you could be more productive in your working hours?
In the New York Times article, Relax! You’ll be More Productive by Tony Schwartz, he illustrates the importance of true restoration and how it’s directly proportionate to productivity.
In 2006, the accounting firm Ernst & Young did an internal study of its employees and found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings from supervisors (on a scale of one to five) improved by 8 percent.
Europeans have always been aware of this fact and are known to take twice the amount of vacation time than Americans. Henry Ford was aware of this as he discovered in the 1920’s that he could get more productivity from his workers if he went from a 48 hour, 6 day work week, to a 40 hour, 5 day work week.
The Atlantic reports in The Case for Vacations: Why Science Says Breaks are Good for Productivity, about numerous studies done showing that humans perform better by taking breaks.
The more we learn about human attention, the more limited it seems. Overtime binges lead to bursts of output that exert a hangover effect in later days. Study after study indicates that short bursts of attention punctuated with equally deliberate breaks are the surest way to harness our full capacity to be productive.
Short breaks improve our concentration and longer breaks provide much needed mental recharging that keep us motivated and refreshed. Undervaluing vacation time leads to detriments on many levels.
Vacation deprivation increases mistakes and resentment at co-workers, Businessweek reported in 2007. “The impact that taking a vacation has on one’s mental health is profound,” said Francine Lederer, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles specializing told ABC News. “Most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation, even if it is a 24-hour time-out.”
Putting research to the test
This week I had my teenage nieces and nephew visiting from the east coast. I had to work while they were here so my boyfriend was kind enough to play tour guide with them during my working hours. But we scheduled activities for the evenings and weekend that I would join them for.
As seems to always be the case in life, as their visit approached, work seemed to get more intense and I began to worry I would miss all the activities we were planning. Or my energy would get all used up and I’d either get no work done or I’d be terrible company. To my surprise, the opposite happened.
I allowed myself to relax and enjoy the activities we had planned without thinking about my to do list. I wanted to make the most of their time here and not be worried about work that would still be there after they left.
What I found was that I was more motivated and productive at work knowing that I had plans to do something fun later on. I wanted to work as efficiently as possible so I could maximize my time with the kids. During a week where my workload was enough to spill into the weekend, I managed to get it all done during the week so I would be free to enjoy the weekend activities we had planned.
The scheduled fun time not only increased my productivity but also served as a huge stress reliever from my busy work schedule. I found that breaking out of my regular routine and having visitors to spend time with provided a much needed distraction from the stresses of work. It was far easier to leave my problems at work when I knew I had houseguests that I wanted to entertain. Their company was rejuvenating and refreshing, serving as a reminder that fun and play time is equally as important as work.
The science behind slacking off
Dr. Christine Carter explains why slacking off is essential to our productivity and creativity processes, in her online course The Science of Finding Flow.
When we daydream, or relax our focus, our brain begins drawing connections between all the things that it previously didn’t see as all that connected. Importantly, the brain networks that are responsible for creative insight come online.
She cites other research that shows when subjects are given a creative task they have more insights and perform better when their attention is diverted to an unrelated task before hand. What did not help their creativity was giving the subjects extra time to consciously think about the task.
The brain needs down time to process new ideas, insights and to make new neural connections. When we allow the mind to wander and relax, it has time to make connections to things it didn’t see before. This is the reason we get so many good ideas or solve problems in the shower or while out for a walk.
Schedule Fun First
So often we find ourselves dreaming of trips and adventures that we hope to do some day when we have the time. And year after year goes by and we find ourselves still dreaming of those same adventures. It’s time to let go of the guilt and embrace the truth that having fun and slacking off will make you MORE productive.
Whether your form of fun is travel, learning, adventure, relaxation, exercise, or competition, make sure you put it on the calendar and watch your creativity improve and your happiness soar.
This article was originally published here.
Debby Germino is an evolving work in progress human being, practicing mindfulness and developing her curiosity of consciousness. Professionally, she is a freelance film and television editor cutting series for AMC, Netflix, CBS, National Geographic Channel and others. She is an amateur triathlete and enjoys physically challenging her body on a daily basis. She writes about her research and experimentation with meditation, healthy habits, and conscious living. You can find her latest articles on Medium and you can sign up for her bi-weekly newsletter here.