Taking Time Off Work – A Guide to Your Sanity

BeachI don’t care what you do or who you work for (especially if you work for yourself) – you need a break.  Your life may seem to revolve around climbing the corporate ladder or taking your own business to new heights, but guess what?  Work will always be there waiting for you.  You will never finish it.  More importantly, you need a break to keep your sanity in tact.

If You’re Given Time Off, Use It!

Nothing angers me more than to hear about my co-workers letting PTO (“Paid Time Off”) expire.  It’s both absurd and insane.  Someone is saying to you, “Hey, here’s some money.  And you don’t need to work for it.  I will pay you to go on vacation.”  Somehow, there are people who flush this opportunity down the toilet.  If you’re not taking time off when you’ll still get paid for not working, what are the chances you ever take time off if you’re in your own business?  Slim to none, I’m guessing.  There is no good excuse to not take time off from work periodically, and there’s especially no good excuse to not take time off when you’re still getting paid for that time.

If you love your job, that’s great.  You’re definitely in the minority.  But even if you absolutely love what you do, even more than laying on a beach in Acapulco or hiking across Europe, you should still take a break.  It’ll clear your mind and you’ll return to work with more energy and a fresh perspective.  If you’re really good at what you do, I believe that taking periodic breaks will make you even better.

Be Strategic

Let’s be honest – there’s never a perfect time to miss work, except for the major holidays when no one is working.  Therefore, you need to be strategic about how you remove yourself from your working environment.

1) Plan Plan Plan! – One of the primary reasons I see that people fail to take time off from work is that they never plan anything.  Taking a week off to go on vacation is extremely easy to do if you plan in advance.  More importantly, planning your time off will make your absence more tolerable to your co-workers, superiors, and clients.  If they know you’ll be gone with a month’s advance notice, you can very easily plan your work around your vacation.

2) Make Your Time Off Public – This is very closely tied to #1.  If other people know you’ll be on vacation, you’ve practically committed yourself to the time off.  Undoubtedly, co-workers and/or clients will ask you about your vacation plan details, and when you’re back from the vacation, they’ll ask about it – this is the easiest “small talk” for anyone.  Keeping this in mind will make sure you are held accountable for the time off that you’ve made public.

3) Take Time Off After Busy Periods – If your job has seasonal workloads where you have predictable times of being busy and not being busy, take advantage of the non-busy times.  Not only will this be a more “acceptable” time to miss work, but you will have “earned” this time off due to your recent heavy workload.  Even if busy and non-busy times are not predictable, you should still aim to take your breaks immediately following your busy times for the same reasons.

4) Schedule Your Time Off to Correspond with Others’ Time Off – The holidays are an obvious time of year when your co-workers and/or clients are absent from work, but there may be other times as well.  Do you find that most people are gone around the 4th of July?  If so, plan to take a break then too.

5) Utilize Weekends in Your Planning – This is another fairly obvious strategy, but it’s worth mentioning.  A day off here or there often doesn’t seem like enough time, but if you can sandwich a weekend, you have a much longer break.  The classic example is taking off a Friday and a subsequent Monday, giving you 4 days off while only missing 2 days of work.

If You Don’t See Free Time on the Horizon, Create It

You may be reading this post right now and are thinking, “These are great strategies, but I am far too busy for this.  Not only can I not take off these random weekdays, but my weekends are jam-packed with work too!”  I’m sorry you feel that way.  It’s important that you find a way to create free time – otherwise, you will lose your mind, and worst of all, your work product and motivation will eventually suffer.  This is not an easy problem to solve, but here are some of my suggestions:

1) Identify an Interest and Join an Organization – If you can’t get yourself to miss work to enjoy free time, you might be more inclined to step away from work if it’s for another organized obligation.  There’s a pretty broad spectrum of hobbies and organizations, so it’s up to you to find something that aligns with your interests.  Do you enjoy reading? Join a book club.  Do you enjoy exercise? Sign up to some fitness classes at your local gym.  There’s a lot you can do here, but the goal is the same – to get you away from work.

2) Negotiate a Remote Work Arrangement – This is something Tim Ferriss discusses in The 4-Hour Workweek and it’s something I’ve discussed in the past.  Figure out what part of your work can be done from home or another location, and find a way to do it there.  If you need approval from a superior to do this, start out small perhaps with a little white lie.  Call in sick but specify that you’ll be working from home.  If you can deliver on this promise and show that you were productive at home, you can leverage this in the future and continue to work remotely from time to time.  Even though you’re still doing work, this will still add a little bit of distance between you and your normal work environment.

3) Don’t Be Afraid of Saying “No” – This is also something I’ve written about at length, so I won’t repeat it all again.  Basically, if you don’t see free time in your future, it’s probably because you have a hard time turning down work.  Learn to say no sometimes.

My Recent & Upcoming Vacations

Maybe it’ll motivate you to take a vacation if I tell you about a mini-vacation I was just on, and a couple I have planned in the near future.

New Buffalo, Michigan – I recently stayed at the Marina Grand Resort (this past Thursday night) and took off Thursday and Friday from work.  Thursday night mini-vacations are among my favorites – you give yourself an extended weekend, and the rates are usually much cheaper on Thursday nights (verses Friday or Saturday nights).

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – Next month, I’ll be spending a week in Mexico with my wonderful girlfriend.  This will be a week of pure relaxation: laying in the sun on a white, sandy beach, enjoying some tropical drinks, and basking in my lack of obligations.  Sure, I’ll return home sunburned, but it will definitely be worth it.

Lake of the Woods, Ontario, Canada – In July, I’ll be spending a week in Canada fishing with my brother, cousins, and uncles.  As much as I love laying on a beach and sipping a cold, fresh margarita, there is nothing that beats the secluded wilderness of Witch Bay Camp in Canada.  Each day is filled with fishing, eating, and telling stories after the long day out on the boat.  There’s really no other excursion like it.

Now It’s Your Turn

If you don’t have a vacation planned, plan one today.  Go to Expedia or Travelocity and start browsing.  If you have a significant other, sit down with him/her and make your plans together.  Do it now!

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