Optimize Your Vacation Days

By Chelsea Babin

You’re ready to take some time off but don’t want it to go to waste. What are the benefits of a vacation? How do you know when to ask for time off? How can you create boundaries and balance so you aren’t ignoring work completely, or constantly checking your email? What are the best ways to spend your time off to maximize fun and usefulness? Considering these questions and more will help optimize your vacation days and you’ll be more relaxed when your days off come around.

Psychologists everywhere acknowledge that time off is one of the most beneficial benefits a company can offer. Francine Lederer, a clinical psychologist who specializes in stress and relationship management, said, “The impact that taking a vacation has on one’s mental health is profound. Most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation, even if it is a 24-hour time-out.” If you’re hesitant about taking time off, take a look at the health benefits you could be missing out on if you skip a vacation:

 

Reasons to take vacation

Stress Relief: The most obvious benefit of taking a break is relieving yourself of your everyday stressors. Time off can reduce your risk for cardiovascular diseases, muscle tension, headaches, cancer and various infections due to a weakened immune system. Plus, you’ll prevent burnout!  Your boss will appreciate that you’ve taken time off in the long run if it helps you stay happy at their company for a longer period of time. Turnover is far more expensive than employees taking a short vacation!

Improve your mental function: Giving your brain a break from routine will improves its function. Instead of spending your vacation days coding, you’ll spend them considering other topics and allowing your mind to wander to unfamiliar places. Plus, if you want, you can use your vacation to read up on the IT industry or topics unrelated to work. Expanding your mind will build up your creative faculties, which will ultimately help you bring more innovative ideas to your employer.

Improve your physical health: It’s easy to get stuck in a physical rut, either going to the gym and doing the same thing each time or ignoring physical activity all together. Multiple studies have proven that a sedentary life creates enormous health risks down the road. You can use your time off to renew your passion for physical activity. Go hiking or on a yoga retreat, there are plenty of fun, physical activities to fill your vacation days. Getting up and moving has proven to reduce stress, improve sleep and reduce aches and pains.

Strengthen relationships: Go spend time with your family and friends and you will soon realize the rejuvenating power of socialization. Build lasting memories and form stronger bonds with the important people in your life who you don’t get to see every day in the office. This quality time is valuable to your mental health and sense of self and will help you be a more pleasant, well-rounded person when you return to work.

Enjoy life!: What’s the use in living a healthy life if you don’t take any time to enjoy it? Spend your vacation laughing with your friends, learning new things or exploring an unfamiliar city and meeting new people. Whatever you do on vacation it should be centered on enjoying your life. This enjoyment will allow you to reflect on why you enjoy other aspects of your life, including your job. When you return it won’t feel old and stale but new and exciting because you’ll have a fresher perspective and a renewed appreciation.

 

Now that you’ve evaluated the numerous positive health benefits of taking time off, how do you ask for it? Whether you’re in a permanent role or a contract, navigating the scheduling of your time off is often tricky in IT. Whether you’re in the middle of a project, in between tasks or starting a new one, it’s hard to pull yourself away. It never seems like the right time to leave but you don’t want to miss out on the health benefits of a vacation. Here are a few tips to get you ready for a little break.

 

Schedule your time off the right way

If you’re new, wait it out: It’s easier to ask for time off when you’ve been at a company for at least 6 months. During the earlier, training phase of your new position it’s hard to get properly settled if you’re jetting off for a week. If you have a pre-scheduled vacation, make sure to tell your boss about this before you start. However, if the time off wasn’t already scheduled, try to avoid it during your initial few months. If you find yourself getting burnt out and in need of a vacation in this early stage that might be a sign you’re not in the right position or company for you!

Plan ahead and involve your boss: If you’re planning a vacation in advance, ask your boss before setting specific dates. Collaboratively scheduling a time frame will help your time off be less of a burden for your company, especially if it exceeds 3 consecutive days. This practice is equally as virtuous as coming in to work early. Including your work responsibilities into your vacation planning process will reflect well on you. Your boss and you can schedule around large future projects if possible and you’ll be able to plan your daily tasks to finish any essential tasks before heading out.

Calculate extra funds if you’re contracting: If you’re working contract roles, taking time off can be more difficult. Managing your budget for your vacation will involve more than saving up for the flight and lodging because contract roles often come without benefits like paid time off. Calculate how much you’re losing per day you’re gone and factor that amount into your budget. Although this may stress you out, it’s the most realistic approach you can take. You’ll have plenty of time to de-stress on your upcoming vacation!

 

Once you’ve secured a time frame for your vacation, it’s time to decide how to spend it! Whether you’re just taking off a day or two or an entire week, your mind is probably swimming with ideas.

Are there any ways you can optimize your vacation so you can come back to work with a clear head and a refreshed perspective? Of course there are! While you don’t have to do anything more than sit on a beach with your toes in the sand, we have a few suggestions for using your time off wisely. After all, you get so little of it, you should use it wisely!

 

Best ways to spend your time off

Spend time with your loved ones:  This reconnecting reminds you of how important your relationships are in your life and is never a waste of time. When you spend quality time with family and friends, it helps reestablish your strong sense of self. This bonding time will comfort you and unclutter your stressed-out mind, which will help you focus once you return to the office.

Socialize with new people: Get out there and party with new people! Lack of familiarity will sharpen your communication skills and help you network. Remember, networking isn’t reserved for stuffy business meetings or tech conventions; you can meet people who will be valuable to your network at a bar on vacation. Be open to conversation with new people and put the emphasis on in-person interaction during your vacation if you’re looking to immerse yourself in new perspectives.

Keep a travel journal: Whether you’re going somewhere exciting or returning to your hometown, vacations help your step out of your everyday patterns. Physically traveling to a new place helps your mind wander and create formerly incongruous thought connections, the cornerstone of creativity. Writing these down for future reference is a great practice, particularly when on vacation. You have more time to stew, reflect and meditate on topics you would otherwise have to ignore. Take advantage of this!

Relax: Seriously. You may be heading to your parents’ house for a birthday celebration or jet setting across Europe for 10 days but it’s important that you leave room in your schedule for down time. Otherwise, you’ll come back to work exhausted and over stimulated. It will be hard to settle back into your everyday routines and you may temporarily find yourself lacking enthusiasm for sitting at your desk and coding. When traveling, make sure to allocate adequate downtime into your schedule so you don’t feel like you’re rushing through your vacation. It will be harder to reflect on your experiences and truly appreciate your break if you’re speeding through it.

Never underestimate the power of a staycation: Even if it’s just taking off early one afternoon, a staycation can be all you need for a great, effective vacation. A short staycation is the perfect time to pick up your old guitar or learn to cook a lasagna that’s better than any local restaurant’s.  Spending a little extra time on your hobbies will help you immensely at work. Whether it’s reading a great book, visiting a local arcade or building birdhouses in your garage, these activities will reaffirm your sense of self. When you neglect your hobbies for too long, it’s easy to begin resenting work. Don’t ignore your hobbies, they’ll make you a more passionate, well-rounded individual.

Tech conference, anyone?: One vacation option with benefits that feed directly into work is attending a tech conference. While this may not truly feel like a break for everyone, being introduced to new ideas and gaining familiarity with where the IT industry is heading is a great idea. You can bring newfound knowledge and skills home with you that will apply—directly or indirectly—to your every day work.

Plan for your future: With all of your time to reflect, vacations are a great time to make plans for your future. Having goals in mind for your future career—and life in general—is essential for success. This could be a written list, a visual board (either a tangible collage or on Pinterest), or small reminders scattered around your sightlines throughout the day. If you’re trying to lose weight put a reminder on your fridge. If you want to read more books, take the batteries out of your remote so you have to physically get up and turn the thing on manually (the horror!) Spending a vacation day planning out your desired career trajectory and the steps you’ll take to get there will make you feel empowered when you return to work and you’ll have visual reminders of your goals that you can benefit from after your vacation is over.

Unplug, if you dare: One of the hardest vacation practices for IT professionals is unplugging, but you should consider it! Even if it’s just for one day, giving your eyes and brain a rest from the increasingly familiar glare of a screen will help you be more observant on your time off and it will be easier to block off unnecessary fountains of information so that you can, instead, form your own thoughts. Let your mind wander instead of browsing the front page of Reddit and you’ll be surprised at the benefits. Plus, this is a practice you can occasionally implement at work or in your free time. These small, habitual breaks will feel like a vacation for your brain and will help increase your productivity and creativity.

Enjoy yourself!: We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating.  Watch a movie you’ve been meaning to see, celebrate a loved one’s birthday or go out with your friends. Whatever activity brings a smile to your face is a worthwhile way to spend your vacation time. In this competitive IT economy, the emphasis is often on constant self-improvement. While keeping up with the latest technology and trends will benefit your career overall, so will the ability to cut loose and have a good time. Don’t settle for an either-or scenario, part of taking a vacation is learning to take time for yourself to balance out the time you dedicate to your job the rest of the year.