As the dog days of summer approach, many of you will be fortunate enough to be able to take a vacation. Here are four ways to put that vacation to good use:

1. Actually take a break

After several months of a hectic work schedule, you may have convinced yourself that idleness is a sin. To successfully recover during a vacation, you need to break free of this mindset: it’s perfectly okay to do nothing more than sit on the beach. This might sound obvious, but a 2010 survey by the travel site Expedia found that only 45 percent of Americans say they feel rested when they return to work after a vacation.

Of course, vacations themselves can sometimes be overwhelming, especially when you bring along the kids. So be sure to schedule “vacations from your vacation”—hire a babysitter to watch your children while you and your spouse enjoy a romantic dinner. Or go for a quick, peaceful walk along the beach after your young children go to bed or before your teenage children wake up.

2. Kick your email addiction

Whether or not you’ve brought along your kids, one surefire way to ruin a vacation is to endlessly check your email. Anytime you check your work email, your mind goes back to “work mode”—it frets about unfinished tasks, and worries about the work that might pile up while you’re away. It’s okay to check your email once or twice a day, but you simply can’t focus on your kids, your spouse, or yourself if you’re thinking about that email you have to send.

In order to avoid having to check your email, or answer unwanted phone calls, you might need to be assertive with your boss and your peers. Make it clear to them that you are, in fact, on vacation—rather than merely working remotely.

3. Keep a healthy sleep schedule

On the weekends and on vacation, most people shift their sleep schedule: they stay up later, and then sleep in. When they return to work, however, they typically have to shift back to an earlier wake-up time, all at once. This phenomenon has recently been dubbed “social jet lag,” and researchers have linked it to negative health outcomes such as obesity. So, for your health, try to go to sleep at a similar hour on vacation as you do during a workweek.

Of course, an early bedtime is not conducive to late-night partying. So if you want to dance the night away, do so in the first half of your vacation. Then gradually bring your sleep schedule back in line with what it will have to be when you return to work.

4. Make a career check-up

Many professionals can lose sight of the big picture when they are consumed by the day-to-day assignments of their jobs. A vacation is an opportunity for you to think about these more fundamental questions.

One important part of your big picture is your career. I personally believe you should reevaluate your career at least once each year, and a vacation an appropriate time to reflect a little.  Why so often? Because a lot can happen in a year. You may learn more about the pros and cons of your current job. You might have sent a child off to college. You may have gotten a new boss or new colleagues.

Thinking about these changes can help you make better decisions about the next step you should take. However, this career check-up doesn’t need to be a strenuous task where you write down every pro and con about your current job. You just need to step back and reflect—ask yourself whether this particular job is the right one for the stage of your career.

(Photo credit: Relaxing on the Beach via Shutterstock)

Love this article?