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How to Take a Working Vacation That Actually Works

When we overwork, we steal from our future for the sake of the present. Taking a working vacation is the best way to balance the two.

Working vacations can give you the best of both worlds — as long as you strike the right balance.
Working vacations can give you the best of both worlds — as long as you strike the right balance.

Face it: You’re overworked. The average American full-timer clocks 47 hours per week at work, but health experts say even the standard 40-hour week might be too much.

Compounding the issue is Americans’ declining vacation time. The average worker takes three fewer days of vacation than she did in the 1980s. The most common explanation? Demands at work discourage taking time off.

How can you take time away while staying in the loop? Working vacations. Not only does a hybrid approach offer the best of both worlds, but it can actually make you more productive. Reservations.com reports that 78% of employees experience a boost in productivity when they assume a more flexible schedule.

With that said, not all “workations” are created equal. A productive one takes planning and balance: Too much work and too little vacation (or vice versa) can defeat the purpose. But done correctly, working vacations are an opportunity to experience the world without having to worry about falling behind.

Making Working Vacations Work for You

Ready to try a working vacation? Before you book:

1. Get your team on board.
Remote work may be a staple at many companies, but not all of them are used to team members taking working vacations. Make sure everyone knows you’re not totally unplugging; you’re working intermittently.

Once your team knows you’re not going AWOL, determine your priorities together. Outline what you want to accomplish while you’re gone. Even if you’ll have access to phone and email the whole time, account for times when you won’t be strictly available, such as on flights. Entrepreneur Stephen Spencer actually relishes flights because they’re “deep work” opportunities, free of typical office distractions.

Remember, too, to arrange your working vacation with HR. Your company might not want to pay you for the full day — but it shouldn’t count as a standard vacation day, either. Ask about a flexible PTO budget. If that’s not an option, can you at least get a travel stipend?

2. Choose the right destination.

Your working vacation should be somewhere you actually want to go, of course, but that shouldn’t be your only consideration. Think about the factors that might influence the work you’re doing and how productively you’re able to do it.

First, think about the setting. Perhaps you’re partial to beaches, but you know you’re less likely to get stuff done when you’re lounging on the shore all day. Mountains are fun as well — but where are you going to find Wi-Fi? A city, where you’ll find coffee shops as well as museums where you can unplug, might be your best choice.

Next, sort out the logistics. Will you be in a different time zone from your office? Must you be online at certain times? Knack, which hires only remote workers, still requires them to be available from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST, no matter where they are.

Wherever you go, make sure the place you stay at has internet, phone service, and anything else you need to get work done. Get an international cell phone if you frequently take calls. Pay for a hotspot if you’re worried about Wi-Fi reliability.

3. Plan your workplaces.

Cafes and libraries aren’t always what they appear from online photos. That coffee shop might be so busy you can’t find a seat. The library might only offer Wi-Fi to library card holders, and you may need a local address to get a card.

Plan for those moments by creating “always,” “sometimes,” and “never” lists. You might have a nearby friend, for instance, whose house has Wi-Fi you can always use. Starbucks is another good option for your “always” list. Local coffee shops and grocery stores should be “sometimes” choices.

What about your “never” list? Populate that with places you might be tempted to work but shouldn’t. Bars often have Wi-Fi, but you might be useless after a drink or two. Knowing ahead of time where you should and shouldn’t be during work hours minimizes stressful surprises.

4. Give yourself some breathing room.
Balancing work and leisure during a working vacation might appear easy on paper, but the temptation to let loose outside the office is a strong one. Planning what you want to get done and where you’ll do it is important, but so is indulging yourself on occasion.

A working vacation should still be a vacation. Give yourself at least three free hours during each workday, and plan at least one day when you don’t work at all. To give yourself stress-free time away, productivity site Calendar suggests communicating those hours to your second-in-command.

We all need vacations to feel relaxed and satisfied with our lives. When we overwork, we steal from our future for the sake of the present. Taking a working vacation is the best way to balance the two.

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