By Elizabeth Grace Saunders // This article was originally posted on hbr.org.
The idea of “vacation” often conjures up thoughts of trips to faraway lands. While it’s true that big trips can be fun and even refreshing, they can also take a lot of time, energy, and money. A lot of people feel exhausted just thinking about planning a vacation—not just navigating personal commitments and school breaks, but deciding how to delegate major projects or put work on hold, just so they can have a stress-free holiday. Because of this, some might put off their time away, figuring they’ll get to it when their schedule isn’t so demanding, only to discover at the end of the year that they haven’t used up their paid time off.
In my experience as a time management coach and as a business owner, I’ve found that vacations don’t have to be big to be significant to your health and happiness. In fact, I’ve been experimenting with the idea of taking “micro-vacations” on a frequent basis, usually every other week. These small bits of time off can increase my sense of happiness and the feeling of having “room to breathe.”
From my point of view, micro-vacations are times off that require you to use a day or less of vacation time. Because of their shorter duration, they typically require less effort to plan. And micro-vacations usually don’t require you to coordinate others taking care of your work while you’re gone. Because of these benefits, micro-vacations can happen more frequently throughout the year, which allows you to recharge before you’re feeling burnt out.
If you’re feeling like you need a break from the day-to-day but can’t find the time for an extended vacation, here are four ways to add micro-vacations to your life.
Weekend trips. Instead of limiting vacations to week-long adventures, consider a two- to three-day trip to someplace local. I’m blessed to live in Michigan, and one of my favorite weekend trips is to drive to Lake Michigan for some time in a little rented cottage on the shore or to drive up north to a state park. Especially if you live in an urban area, traveling even a few hours can make you feel like you’re in a different world.
To make the trip as refreshing as possible, consider taking time off on Friday so you can wrap up packing, get to your destination, and do a few things before calling it a night. That still leaves you with two days to explore the area. If you get home by dinnertime on Sunday, you can unpack and get the house in order before your workweek starts again.
There may be a few more e-mails than normal to process on Monday, but other than that, your micro-vacation shouldn’t create any big work pileups.
Margin for personal to-do items. Sometimes getting the smallest things done can make you feel fantastic. Consider taking an afternoon—or even a full day—to take an unrushed approach to all of the nonwork tasks that you really want to do but struggle to find time to do. For example, think of those appointments like getting your hair cut, nails done, oil changed, or doctor visits. You know that you should get these taken care of but finding the time is difficult with your normal schedule.
Or perhaps you want to take the time to do items that you never seem to get to, like picking out patio furniture, unpacking the remaining boxes in the guest room, or setting up your retirement account. You technically could get these kinds of items done on a weeknight or over the weekend. But if you’re consistently finding that you’re not and you have the vacation time, use it to lift some of the weight from the nagging undone items list.
Shorter days for socialization. As individuals get older and particularly after they get married, there tends to be a reduction in how much time they spend with friends. One way to find time for friends without feeling like you’re sacrificing your family time is to take an hour or two off in a day to meet a friend for lunch or to get together with friends before heading home. If you’re allowed to split up your vacation time in these small increments, a single vacation day could easily give you four opportunities to connect with friends who you otherwise might not see at all.
If you struggle to have an uninterrupted conversation with your spouse because your kids are always around, a similar strategy can be helpful. Find days when one or both of you can take a little time off to be together. An extra hour or two will barely make a difference at work but could make a massive impact on the quality of your relationship.
Remote days for decompression. Many offices offer remote working options for some or all of the week. If that’s offered and working remotely is conducive to your work style and your tasks, take advantage of that option.
Also, for individuals who work in offices that are loud, lack windows, or where drive-by meetings are common, working remotely can feel like a welcome respite. Plus, you’re likely to get more done. A picturesque location can also give you a new sense of calm as you approach stressful projects. I find that if I’m working in a beautiful setting, like by a lake, it almost feels as good as a vacation. My surroundings have a massive impact on how I feel.
Instead of seeing “vacation” as a large event once or twice a year, consider integrating in micro-vacations into your life on a regular basis. By giving yourself permission to take time for yourself, you can increase your sense of ease with your time.
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