Give yourself a break!

The value of taking a vacation

Author: Scott Beaulier, Dean of NDSU’s College of Business

I’m back from a mini-vacation with my family and while digging-out after time away from the office is always unpleasant, vacations are well worth it, if not essential, for any healthy person.

Whether you’re taking a stay-cation or going to an exotic place time zones away, disconnecting from work and day-to-day routines to reflect, recharge, and focus on family and relationships yields enormous benefits, both professionally and personally.

I recently encountered a sad statistic that millions of Americans only take half of their paid vacation each year. Considering most people only get about two weeks (maybe they’re, if lucky) of vacation a year, far too many are living to work, rather than the other way around. Yes, many of us love our jobs and particularly for entrepreneurs, our work is a passion. But, there are good reasons to unplug and get away. Here are three that come to mind for me:

Boosts Productivity

Human beings get tired—mentally and physically. We try to deny it by drinking massive amounts of coffee or energy drinks but there’s a limit to how much caffeine and sugar can help us power through. If we don’t take time for a break, the effects reveal themselves in obvious ways (mistakes on the job) and less obvious ways (we simply slow down and become less productive). For example, a 3am Memo delivered to the boss is filled with typos, or something that should take 10 minutes takes 30.

In the short run, these effects may seem minor, but the long-term effects of failing to balance work and play are significant. Several studies link over-work to trouble sleeping (and all of the health problem that follow), heart problems, Type 2 diabetes, and many other negative health repercussions.

You’re not super-human. Trying to deny this reality may make you feel good about “giving your all to your work,” but you’ll end up doing more for your company by balancing a little down time too.

There are the downstream aspects of you taking time too. While these estimates sound a bit rosy, a recent study by Forbes, shows that: “If workers used all of their available paid time off , the economy[/entity] would benefit from more than $160 billion in total business sales and $21 billion in tax revenues, spending that would support 1.2 million jobs in industries ranging from retail to manufacturing to transportation.”

Yet, many who forgo vacation cite fear of being replaced for doing so. Clearly, employers have reason to be more vocal in encouraging employees to take their vacations.

Boosts Creativity

It’s hard to come up with new ideas without inspiration, and inspiration requires exposure to concepts and images that set the mind in motion. Beautiful landscapes or artwork, unfamiliar cultural practices, innovative cuisine, and different approaches to everyday problems are a few common vacation experiences that can ignite creative sparks. Those that unplug (even for a bit!) and absorb what’s around them, can return with fresh approaches to their daily challenges and even an idea for a new start-up!

In an article for Lifehack.org, Lauren Curatola puts the connection between vacation and creativity perfectly: “For most, creativity comes through new and exciting experiences. But when the most exciting thing about your day is the commute to and from work, or the office gossip at the water cooler, you’re limiting your mind’s ability to expand and be inspired.”

The article title, is appropriately subtitled “travel is an investment in yourself,” driving home the idea that we need to treat ourselves well to operate at our peak potentials.

Strengthens Relationships:

Few people take a vacation by themselves, meaning vacation is about more than just the physical place; it’s about being with people we care about. Entrepreneurs and business leaders often love their work, but should be diligent about not losing focus on what matters most. Vacations—even short ones—are a great way to do just that!

At least for me, I know that any professional success is due to the team I have at home. Whatever happens at work—on good days and bad—I’m always happy to go home and see my wife and three kids. Vacations are an important time for me to focus on them and be completely present for the moments that I know will stick with all of us long after that “urgent” email is forgotten or that “crisis” is resolved. Here are a few of the unforgettable moments from our trip earlier this month:

  • Each of our kids caught their first fish!
  • My youngest son (age 2) spent much of the week pulling night crawlers out of a tub, stretching them out, and naming each one he pulled “Choo-Choo.”
  • My wife and I played “Paper, rock, scissors” each day to see who would go in the frigid water with the kids next…often, we both ended up jumping in and enjoyed it!

It’s okay to enjoy—even love—doing our jobs, but we should be careful about losing focus on what matters.

We still have a lot of summer left. Where are you taking your vacation?