“Health requires this relaxation, this aimless life. This life in the present.”
Henry David Thoreau
Summertime, and the living is easy – or so the classic George Gershwin song goes. Taking time off from work is key to creating work-life balance, reconnecting with family and recharging one’s batteries.
Yet for a certain group of people, vacation time can be a source of anxiety. These people, so used to a rigid daily structure of meetings, assignments, phone calls and e-mails, ask: “What am I going to do with all that time I suddenly have?” They may also wonder, “How do I handle being around my family for so long?”
Sometimes the fear causes such people to cut holidays short, bring work with them, schedule a hectic holiday pace (10 European cities in three days) or avoid booking time altogether.
It may seem incomprehensible to those aching for downtime.
It has to do with the fear of non-work time forcing a kind of existential reflection on a person. Indeed, vacations can be a time when we take stock of what’s most important to us. Perhaps the time away from the office busyness will show that we’ve neglected our families, our bodies, or our spiritual or creative sides. These revelations can be discomfiting.
But to achieve proper work-life balance, it is important to use the opportunity for introspection to become more conscious of one’s values.
The time we take away from busy work schedules can have a positive effect on our performance in our roles at home and at work.
For those of you who dread downtime, here are some tips for making vacation time worthwhile:
1. Examine Your Priorities
Free time allows the mind to wander. A canoe paddle on a lake or a hike in the woods may allow thoughts about what you want for yourself. Is it more time with your children or spouse, better nutrition, more money or exercise? Perhaps it’s a career change or shift in business strategy, such as generating a new marketing plan.
Sometimes, when we give ourselves time to think, the conclusions we arrive at may be disturbing. Perhaps you think, “I want to quit my job.” Or maybe you conclude, “I’ve let my son down”. Or, perhaps you decide, “I’d like to have an affair.” Whatever the outcome, the point is to allow yourself to reflect, ponder and dream, and let ideas float around uncensored. You are not taking active steps. You are merely identifying areas of your life that need attention.
Sometimes holidays have yielded great conclusions for people, such as: “My kids have turned out well”, or, “I can be proud of my accomplishments.”
Practising self-awareness helps us celebrate our accomplishments and warns us of potential problems in need of attention. If your reflections offer you moments of joy, notice these thoughts, if your reflections identify sore spots like the need to improve personal relationships or find more meaningful employment, resolve to consider making changes.
2. Notice What Makes You Happy
If downtime is an opportunity to choose what you want to do, what activities are you drawn to? Reading? Riding a horse? Gardening? Sailing? People who do a lot for other people may find this task difficult. Making other people happy has been their main agenda. Asking what they want may seem selfish. Yet knowing what makes you happy is a way of getting to know yourself, something self-sacrificing people tend to avoid. Identifying what makes us feel good forces many to recognize their boundaries.
Learning what makes you tick while on holiday can be brought back to the workplace. If you find yourself repeatedly taking on work tasks no one else wants, it may be time to suggest work-sharing.
3. Plan the next Vacation
Begin to think about what you’d like to do with the next opportunity for leisure time. Book the time now. Looking forward to your holidays can help make your work time more pleasant. Planning to slow down is imperative to being healthy, productive and balanced.
Finding time to be alone, to be with people who matter to us and to be quiet are important to our well-being. Slowing down helps us remain receptive to our own needs and dreams. By embarking on a holiday we get the chance to get to know ourselves and our families better. As Mohandas Gandhi said “There is more to life than increasing its speed”.
Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at email@example.com
Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.