We don’t take enough vacation.
A recent Glassdoor survey found that U.S. workers only use about half their paid vacation time. Why? We’re afraid. Afraid the work won’t get done if we’re not there to do it. Afraid to disconnect because we might miss something important.
These fears may be useful crutches in the short-term, but they’re bad for long-term productivity. It’s well-documented that overworking can make us less productive, and that vacation gives us the mental space to approach old problems with a fresh outlook.
So when I left my job of five years, I took five weeks off before starting my new job. Here are three reasons why you should do so too (if you can).
1. It was an opportunity to break bad (technology) habits and set new ones
Technology has significantly changed over the last decade, and it’s changed us. I had picked up several bad habits that were hindering my productivity, like checking social media too frequently, scrolling through breaking news headlines every other hour, and trying to multitask (a true productivity killer that also hurts long-term memory).
In an attempt to break these bad habits, I took a five-week social media break. I read the news a few times a week instead of a few times a day. When I left the house to run errands or meet up with friends, I left my phone behind (or put it in airplane mode). These are habits I’m trying to keep as I start my new job.
I also set intentions about which new habits I wanted to develop.
Weeks before my break, I had heard a lot of buzz about Cal Newport’s new book, Deep Work. I listened to several Newport interviews and was sold.
Newport’s thesis is that we’re most productive when we’re focused for hours at a time. Focus stretches our ability to learn new, complex skills, one of the most valuable traits in our increasingly automated, distracted world.
Deep work is also the antidote to multitasking.
2. I completed personal tasks and passion projects I had ignored for months
I’m almost 30 but just a few months ago I knew little to nothing about finance. So, I spent hours reading articles, watching YouTube videos, and talking to family about investing and retirement planning. I even signed up for a one-time session with a financial planner.
The task of learning personal finance basics had been collecting figurative dust on my personal to-do list for months but with time off I sat down and got it done.
I also finished writing an article I had been working on for months and spent hours writing fiction, which I hadn’t done in months.
Sure, you can always find spare time on nights and weekends, but there’s something about an extended break that mentally frees you to take on important, but not urgent, projects.
3. Taking a break reminded me how much I love my work
For years, I’ve worked to prevent cruelty to farmed animals, helping to wage campaigns to ban cruel factory farming practices and promote vegetarianism.
It’s highly rewarding and highly important work. But it’s not always easy. Like at most nonprofits, there’s a lot of work to be done and the subject matter can be difficult to think about for eight (or more) hours a day for years on end. As a result, nonprofit employees can suffer from burnout.
But once the start date of my new job approached, I found myself excited to get back to work. I began brainstorming new ideas, writing an article on the issue and attended an energizing conference.
Time off can provide clarity that working non-stop cannot.
Taking time off between jobs isn’t for everyone. I had the privilege to do so, but many people can’t afford to skip a few paychecks. I was also fortunate that my new employer was flexible with my start date. But if it fits within your budget and schedule, a few weeks off can help you catch up on personal projects, break bad habits, and give you the time and space to prepare for the next phase of your life.