After a few years of trying to figure it out, I think I've finally got this vacation thing nailed.
I've written before about my attempts, successful and not-so-successful, to disconnect from the office while spending time away. But they say practice makes perfect, and I'm starting to believe that's the case.
I built a mini-vacation for myself by taking last Friday off. That day plus the Independence Day holiday gave me four days to be with family and friends and enjoy some time at home.
Coming into the holiday, I was feeling a serious need for some time off. Work has been a bit more stressful than usual lately, and I was looking forward to a chance to rest, reflect and refocus for the busy weeks and months ahead. And that's what happened.
For example, during my time off, we cooked tinfoil dinners and spent an evening outdoors near a creek on land that has been in my wife's family for generations.
We got together with extended family to take in a movie on the Fourth of July, then found the perfect vantage point from which we were able to watch fireworks displays popping all around the Salt Lake Valley.
We went to lunch with good friends a couple of times and celebrated a family member's birthday.
And, perhaps best of all, I slept in almost every day. As busy as our family is, that's a luxury I can rarely afford.
I did have my work phone with me all four days, and I checked email every now and then. But my checks were much less frequent than they have been on past vacations, and I generally stayed away from office responsibilities and worries.
It was great! By the end of my time off, I was ready to head back to the office and tackle with renewed energy and enthusiasm the challenges facing me there.
The benefits of this kind of break are obvious, I think, but it's taken me a long time to understand how necessary such respite it. And, based on a recent survey, it appears that I'm not the only one who struggles to really leave work behind while on vacation.
The survey commissioned by LiquidSpace, a Web and mobile platform that helps people find and book professional office space, was based on interviews with 1,495 Americans. According to its results, 52 percent of those surveyed said they worked while on vacation, up from 42 percent in 2011.
Furthermore, 71 percent of Americans said they worked five or more hours during a weeklong vacation, while 47 percent said they worked nine or more hours. The average number of hours worked while on vacation was 11, according to the survey.
It also showed that 83 percent of people who worked on vacation said they had worked from a hotel room, condo or rental house. I've done all three of those.
But I've also learned a few things about disconnecting. So, to help others do the same, here are some tips for building a mini-vacation that is (mostly) free from work:
— Beware of the tyranny of the smartphone. If you're like me, you're so used to checking your phone all the time that it's become a powerful habit. Such habits can be hard to leave behind for a few days, so my suggestion here is to outsmart yourself. Go somewhere where your phone doesn't get a signal (like that creek we visited last week), or turn your phone off and leave it at home while you go out for a few hours. If you can't resist temptation, the best thing to do is remove it altogether.
— Focus on family and friends. Plan simple outings with those who are most important to you, and remember to really be in the moment with them while you have the time. You'll make memories that will last for years, and you'll strengthen your relationships while you're at it.
— Feed your need to get things done. If you're the kind of person who is driven to check off items on your daily to-do list, you might miss that sense of accomplishment when you take a couple of days off. Instead of giving in to the urge to do some work for your office job, make a list of things you want to do around the house and mark those items off as you complete them.
— Remember that it's OK to relax. I would suggest adding "take a nap" to the list I mentioned in the previous tip. Don't feel guilty about slowing down. Read a book. Take a walk. Stare outside and enjoy the wonder of nature during a thunderstorm. Look for the little things that you usually don't stop long enough to enjoy during your busy everyday life.
— Don't kick yourself for checking in on work occasionally. If you spend a few minutes each day looking through work email or touching base with associates, that's probably fine. Just be sure that you set a strict time limit — I recommend 15 minutes or less — and schedule your check-in for a time that won't detract from activities with family and friends.
These tips are basic, but if you follow through, I believe you'll find that your time away from work will be more relaxing than you've experienced before. You'll head back to the office with the energy you need to write powerful memos, build convincing presentations and sweep to victory in your daily corporate battles.
If you have other tips for disconnecting from work during a vacation, please send them to me, and I'll share some of your ideas in a future column.