Offbeat Adventure

To Stay Sane at Work, Try Taking Microvacations

As nice as it is to get away for a week or two, vacations can be stressful. There's the travel booking, the hotel arrangements, the plans for covering your work while you're gone, and then the expense of actually going on the trip. It can be enough to make you reconsider even going on vacation at all. Well, we've got two things to say to that. One: You need time off, period. Two: There are ways to take it without adding stress to your already stressed life.

Overworked and Underpaid

In 2017, 52 percent of American workers lucky enough to get paid vacation days left some of them unused. That added up to a whopping 705 million unused vacation days overall, or two million years — roughly the amount of time that's passed since humans appeared on Earth. To present it in a lump sum like that might be a little sensational, but this isn't: Working too much has been linked with heart problems, mental health issues, and a decrease in work quality in general. It's no wonder that the highest-performing employees take the most vacation time.

Of course, it's not that American workers hate fun and love stress. A recent study by GlassDoor found that the biggest reasons people don't take vacation involve fears about job security — if someone can take over your work when you're gone, then maybe you really are as expendable as you feared. There's also the shift in workplace culture that comes with our increasing ability to stay tethered to the office on our digital devices, leading to longer hours working and a lower value placed on time off. A majority of employees say their companies either don't encourage or actively discourage taking vacation days, according to Forbes.

There's also the fact that vacationing can be expensive. The median household income in the United States still hasn't bounced back from the 2007 recession, and the nation's lowest-wage workers get the least paid vacation time.

So how does an overworked, underpaid, insecure employee manage to get a little R&R? In an article for Harvard Business Review, business owner and time-management coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders advocates something that's brilliant in its simplicity: microvacations.

Stop, Drop, Breathe

Saunders defines microvacations as periods away from work that require you to use a day or less of vacation time. Their short duration comes with a load of benefits: You don't have to arrange for someone to handle your work; you won't come back to a mountain of emails; and you can do them a lot more often, which can help you avoid feeling burned out. Plus, if your workplace culture discourages long vacations, short stints away might be an easier sell.

Here's a simple example: The next time you're feeling the squeeze of your workload, check your calendar and arrange for a single vacation day on an upcoming Friday. Why Friday? It's close to a weekend, which will give you three days off for the price of one, and it's generally light on work in the first place. You could take a Monday, but because many people wait until Monday to start projects and send important emails, the Tuesday you get back could be a doozy. Find a spot you've never been that's a few hours away and get there by car or train on Thursday night. Boom: You've got nearly three full days to kick back and recharge your batteries.

But the true brilliance of microvacations might be the fact that they don't need to be vacations at all. Often, working long hours results in sacrifices in other areas, such as friendships, home upkeep, or the little chores and errands you never seem to have time for. You're well within your rights to take a day to paint the den or play hooky with your kid — remember, vacation days are yours to use. If your job allows it, you could even take a half-day to have a long lunch with a friend or catch a matinee of a movie you've been wanting to see.

Whatever method you choose, there's one thing that remains true: You need a vacation. Curiosity says so.

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Another way to work fewer hours is to make more of the hours you have. "Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours" by Robert C. Pozen is full of secrets to supercharging your productivity. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer August 28, 2018

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