This past weekend, we were at a Halloween party talking to a computer engineer who recently moved here from Holland. The topic turned to a discussion of things that are unusual about Americans, in particular, the American relationship to work and vacations. We take less vacation than almost any industrialized country in the world. Of course, we think it’s responsible for our productivity, and in a certain sense, perhaps it is, but from a moodsurfing perspective, the thoughtful use of vacations can be very important.
We think of vacations as falling into one of four types:
- Circuit-breakers – for when a break is necessary to prevent burnout.
- Growth and recharging vacations.
- Taking care of business – when stuff needs to get done.
- Family vacations.
Circuit breaker vacations are the kinds of holidays that you position in your calendar strategically so as to avoid getting “burned out”. if you aren’t quite as successful getting the timing right, you may find yourself having to take a ‘burnout rest and recuperation vacation”.
Elsewhere in this blog, we have written about how burnout and excessive stress sometimes leads to the experience of spending the first few days of every vacation sick. This does not mean that the vacation wasn’t necessary or was a bad idea, but it does mean that it wasn’t nearly as much fun as it could have been. By contrast, we know a German venture capitalist who has gotten the art of holiday taking down to a science. He knows almost exactly when he will need to have a vacation in order to prevent burn out.
Take a look at your calendar and think about when work stress is likely to be at its highest (project deadlines, end of year financials). Then try to schedule vacations s so that they minimize burnout. Circuit breaker vacations, if you are really strategic about placing them, don’t need to be particularly long.
One well know type of recharging vacation is the sabbatical. This is an extended break during which we are able to really get away from the feeling of constant urgency and renew our creativity and our commitment to our deepest values. An example of this is described in the book, A Gift From The Sea.
Unfortunately, this type of holiday usually requires more time, as well as some significant planning and thought. To have one of these experiences, you usually have to have at least three weeks off. Certainly, two weeks is an absolute minimum. It’s typical to have such a vacation only once every two or three years. But you may find, especially if your work depends on your creativity, that taking one of these holidays is essential to maintain both productivity and happiness.
A getting stuff done vacation is taken when you have to take care of a health problem, or get that kitchen remodel going, or some similar task or project. Most of us try to limit these holidays as much as possible.
Family holidays deepen important social connections, however they may also be unusually stressful. Strategic thinking is really important for many of us when planning a family vacation. Think of what the ideal length for such a vacation is for you (as opposed to how long the family member you’re visiting wants to spend with you). For many of us, a family holiday is best if it’s kept to three or four days. Also think through activity and meal plans carefully. For many people, connection is developed from shared meals, you may want to devote time to making sure that those opportunities exist in the schedule since they may be the most valuable part of the family holiday.
We’re sure that we’ve left out a lot of types of holidays or vacations. For instance, we haven’t touched on strategic weekend trips at all.
We would love to hear more from you about your experiences and tips.
We’re going to open a dialogue on our discussion forum on this topic and are going to try to encourage people to post their own tips and tricks there.
For some thoughts about recharging vacations, these are wonderful books…
Life is a Trip: the transformative magic of travel by Judith Fein
The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing – City by David Lebovitz
A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy by Frances Mayes
That Summer in Sicily: A Love Story by Marlena de Blasi
Walden by Henry David Thoreau