How to Make the Most of Vacation Time

I am preparing to take a much-needed vacation and in doing so, I am trying to figure out how to disconnect and recharge. According to a study from Project: Time Off, the average time a worker takes per year is now 17.2 days and more than half didn’t use all of their allotted days. That’s a shame, but the survey also notes that those who take a break are often more productive while they work and are more apt to be creative during their down time.

I don’t really need to be convinced to take vacation, but in order to receive the restorative benefits, I need to be more mindful of how I will comport myself while away. Like many Americans of a certain age, I have fallen into the habit of constantly checking my e-mail. This is partially due to an old pattern that I established when I was in a client business.

While I no longer have clients, the media industry makes me a slave to the news cycle, which in turn keeps me tethered to email. Perhaps most importantly, I am compulsive about keeping my inbox cleared out, even when it would probably be more time efficient to simply let it pile up, even if just for a day. I tried that approach after interviewing Tim Harford, author of Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, but fell off the wagon after a couple of weeks.

One problem with my current habit is that it also sucks me back into work, when I should be getting a break, even if just for the night. According to the latest data from the Labor Department's American Time Use Survey, Americans ages 35 to 44 are on average working 5 hours and 13 minutes each day. That may be just an average, but I am definitely logging more time working that that!

Digging deeper into the survey, I found one area where I am falling short: sleep. Americans are now sleeping 8 hours and 48 minutes daily (including naps), whereas I struggle to get 7 hours. So while on vacation, I am going to attempt to shift time spent with email to sleep!

After talking to colleagues and productivity experts, here’s my to-do list to better manage my time off. Feel free to shoot me a note to provide more tips!

Two Weeks Before Vacation:

  • Communicate with bosses and co-workers. I sent an email to (and then followed up with) TV and radio producers and bookers, with my vacation dates and also noted that if something big occurred (i.e. a stock market drop of more than 4 percent in a single day), they should contact me by phone, not email.
  • Prepare a detailed list of what needs to be ready to go. I need to pre-record a bunch of radio pieces and also have to write at least two weeks of these columns before I head out of town.

T-Minus One Week: Develop a plan. When I first told my producer that I was not going to check email while on vacation, he scoffed and said, “You’re never going to do that. Why don’t you try something more realistic, like once a day?” Good idea. I’ll check each morning and then, that’s it!

Day Before Vacation: Set up a detailed out-of-office reply, alerting everyone that I’m off -- and that I’m not checking email frequently. I will also provide a contact person, who may be able to assist while I’m out.

Vacation Mode: Turn off notifications and head to the beach!