I have been thinking recently about the importance of taking enough vacation to get a real break from work. Here’s how to use the upcoming vacation season to make a huge impact on the load of stress that you’re almost certainly carrying around.

  1. Make sure that you take a long-enough vacation for the program. You need at least seven days, preferably more if you can manage it. Any less won’t give you the time to make a real impact on your mind or body.
  2. Make a list of what you must leave behind: your laptop, your BlackBerry, your PDA, any paperwork from the office, any work-related reading matter. You must treat those as a recovering alcoholic should treat beer, wines, or spirits: absolutely forbidden!
  3. Give your cellphone to someone whom you can trust to prevent you using it during your vacation, except in the direst emergency. No “checking in” with the office. No telling colleagues they can contact you if they need to.
  4. Make it clear to everyone at work that you’re not contactable. If necessary, tell them that there’s no cellphone signal where you’re going, no Internet links, and no possibility of getting anywhere where electronic communications are available. (Consider the message you give when you resolutely remain in contact during your vacation, or make others check in with you. It says: “I don’t trust you not to mess up, because you’re a moron, you’re incompetent, or you’re such an asshole that you’ll stab me in the back as soon as I walk out the door.”)
  5. Travel these days is very stressful.Try not to travel too far. Make plans that include lots of lay-over time, so you won’t be fretting about making that next flight.
  6. While you’re away, ask that trusted person to answer all phone calls. Never pick up the phone yourself. The rule is no contact from anyone concerned with work, save in a genuine emergency (and I mean genuine, like the office burned down).
  7. Pick a vacation that includes lots of places to go, things to see and do, and fresh experiences to keep you fully engaged. Don’t lie on a beach or hang around the pool. Boredom will send you mind scurrying back to work-related issued and have you imagining all kinds of problems waiting for you. Then you’ll try to find some way of getting in touch.
  8. Stay in the moment. No past. No future. Simply pay attention to what is happening right here and right now. Most of us spend nearly all our time worrying about what’s going to happen, or analyzing what did. You can do nothing to change the past and the future is unknowable. But both can prevent you from enjoying what’s here, right now.
  9. Let go. Let go of worries, fears, hopes, expectations, anxieties. they will still be there when you get back, so try to ignore them for the period of your vacation.
  10. Get plenty of sleep. Most people are chronically sleep-deprived. Make sure you can have 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep at might. Maybe throw in a few siestas as well.
  11. Accept how things are. Don’t try to imagine the perfect vacation. Don’t judge it against any preset ideas, or against past vacations, or against other people’s ideas of how it should be. Just accept whatever comes.
  12. Don’t watch TV. None. If you want to watch a film, make sure it’s the kind you get on a special channel, not one on a regular network. Let the world look after itself. No checking up on the stockmarket either.
  13. Reading is fine, but must not include anything even remotely work-related. Try to choose something other than typical pulp fiction. Something to stimulate your mind and challenge your habitual ways of thinking.
  14. Listen to music. Better still, play some music. Sound and rhythm are great healers.
  15. If you find yourself feeling bored and with nothing to do, do something energetic that won’t let you sit and think about work, or about how bored you are. Play some sport. Go for a walk. Swim. Go to the gym.
  16. If you find yourself spending hours just enjoying what you’re doing and thinking about nothing in particular, congratulations. Your program is a success!

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life, The Creativity Class: a place to discover the best ideas on having the best ideas, and Working Potential, where you’ll learn about great ideas for self-development. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.

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