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How to Work When “Not Working”

Updated: Feb 7

person relaxing on a beach

The feeling of time passing has been drastically altered for many of us since the pandemic hit last year—though it may not feel like it, we are already almost all the way through the month of June, which means that for many of us, summer vacation is already about a third of the way over. These days, vacation time—and any free time at all—is often quite valued; modern-day working lifestyles often place a lot of strain and pressure on us to keep the momentum going and get as much work done in the little time that we have.

So, as we head deeper into summer vacation, there may very well be thoughts and concerns of “How much should I work?”, “How much vacation time should I really take?”, and maybe even “Should I even take vacation time?” floating around at the forefronts of our minds. The best, healthiest solutions to these questions, however, may not be what you’d expect. Here are some tips on making the most of your time, even while not actively working a job—such as during a vacation.

Actually Take the Time Off!

Unfortunately, vacation time is being treated as more of a commodity these days, and many people choose not to take that time off for fear of losing valuable work time. According to a 2017 survey by the job site Glassdoor, there are several reasons behind U.S. workers’ hesitance or downright unwillingness to take time off work, among them being fear that they simply have too much work to get done to be taking time away, doubt and pressure that their workplace may not actually want them to take time off, and guilt that the rest of their company team will feel overwhelmed from the extra work if they leave the office. It’s important to recognize that, yes, you should indeed be taking time off. Even if it may seem counterproductive in the moment—after all, you are potentially using up valuable time that you could instead be dedicating to getting work done—in the long run, it benefits your physical and mental health, and helps you work more productively when you are actually working.

On the bright side, more and more employees are becoming aware of the many long-term benefits of actually taking time off work, and more companies are also encouraging employees to take vacation time. An annual “State of the American Vacation” survey, conducted by the research group Project: Time Off, found that in 2018, 38% of respondents reported experiencing a workplace culture that promoted vacation time—a 5% increase from 2017.

Engage in Restorative Activities

Taking time off of work is one thing; using that time to the best of your advantage is another. It’s very easy to waste your time on vacation and actually make yourself more tired—a feeling many of us can probably relate to. During vacation, it’s important to be completely immersed in the moment. Engage in restorative activities, like meditating, getting fresh air, doing some easy exercise, and maybe participating in hobbies you haven’t been able to make time for during work. Take time away from your electronics and focus on loved ones and the people around you. It can also be very helpful to try and remove any traces of your work life from your physical and mental space, so that you can clear out some space to breathe and relax while totally removed from work. Respect your limits, and get in touch with your own needs and wants during this time, so that you can have an effective relaxing and recuperating time.

Don’t Multitask

While on vacation, it is reasonable to still be feeling lingering pressure from the fast-paced life during work, feeling as though if you’re not doing something or even many things at once, then it must mean that you are being unproductive. It’s best, however, to actively try to dispel this feeling of low productivity. Multitasking is quite unhealthy for us, and not actually truly achievable; the human brain can only legitimately focus on one thing at a time, and attempting to multitask is actually what breaks concentration and lowers productivity. It is more effective to concentrate on one task at a time and do it thoroughly, rather than try to accomplish several tasks at once, which leads to getting many things done but only at a mediocre level.

Stick to a Schedule

It is easy and understandable to want to slack off completely during vacation. As a result, you may be wondering how you can keep productivity up during your time off, and how not to slack off so much that you can’t get back into the rhythm of working life when vacation comes to an end. One of the best ways of doing this is to create and maintain a routine to stick to every day, in order to keep up motivation and productivity. Though this schedule should by no means be as rigorous as your daily schedule while working, it should have structure and rhythm to it, and keep you on your toes just enough so that you do not become a complete couch potato. You will be able to get some things done without feeling overwhelmed physically and emotionally, and you will stay in the rhythm of working just enough that transitioning back to a working lifestyle won’t be unimaginably difficult.

Ultimately, taking vacation time is both a useful and necessary step in any working person’s life. Though it may feel intimidating to leave your work entirely for a brief period of time, doing so brings about a variety of benefits, and will help enhance your working life in the long run. If you are currently working and feeling as though taking a vacation soon may be right for you, or if you are just coming back to work from a vacation, consider planning ahead. Anticipating your next vacation doesn’t just help you stay in a fresh zone emotionally and give you something to look forward to, creating a better mindset while working—it can also help you save money and time, if you can schedule a detailed itinerary and budget out your finances. In the long run, vacation time significantly helps avoid burnout, giving working individuals something to look forward to: a chance to take some personal time, and rest and recharge.


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