Planning a Vacation for Maximum ROI

When we look at the disparity between European countries, some of which have 20–30 mandatory vacation days per year, and the United States, which has zero federally mandated vacations days for workers, you may start to wonder who has it right. Are the Europeans lazy? Are American workers more industrious?

The truth is, the American emphasis on continual hard work has damaging effects on our physical and mental health. More workers are suffering from burnout than ever before, leading to a decrease in engagement and, therefore, decreased productivity. A vacation can do wonders to re-engage the mind and keep you performing at your best.

One of the greatest benefits of taking a vacation is the increased productivity when you return. But in order to take true advantage of your work recovery time, you need to vacation correctly.
Take Vacations Regularly
Taking vacations not only protects your health and can get you promoted, but it also increases your productivity–if you go regularly. Knowing that a vacation is just on the horizon works to boost mood. The anticipation and happiness you feel will help kickstart your drive to work because you know there is a deadline for getting everything done before vacation. In fact, studies show that you can boost mood for up to eight weeks before a vacation just by planning and looking forward to it.1

Science estimates that the productivity-producing benefits of a standard vacation will last only a few days, but the benefits of a “very relaxing” vacation could be felt up to three or four weeks after your return.2 In other words, to continually benefit from the effects of your vacation, you need to be vacationing frequently–at least one to two times a year.
Take Long Vacations
Work recovery doesn’t happen in a single day. The Journal of Happiness Studies says that the eighth day of your vacation is the most relaxing and will have the greatest effect on happiness and wellbeing.3 You need to be away from the office long enough for your stress levels to dissipate and for normal body functioning to return. It’s a simple matter of input and output.

In order to receive the desired output (increased productivity when you return), you need to put in a quality input, meaning a longer vacation. While many people assume being away from the office for longer will just mean a larger pile of work to return to, remember your increased productivity will have that done in no time. In fact, one company saw sales increase by 15% just two months after adding a third week to their vacation policy. Clearly, workers taking advantage of their long time away came back ready to work and got more done.4
Unplug While You’re Away
It may seem obvious, but you can’t enjoy work recovery if you’re still working during your recovery period. Unplugging completely from email and phone calls while you’re enjoying a vacation is the only way to truly rest and recharge your brain and body. Levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, increase when you are working. The whole point of a vacation is to remove your stress response so cortisol levels go down and your body and brain have time to recover.

Set an OOO (out of office) automated email and then turn off your phone notifications. Leave your computer at home and let your coworkers know that you won’t be responding until you get back. Even better, vacation at the top of a mountain or a deserted island where there’s no wifi to be had. Letting your mind take a break from work-related activities will allow new thoughts and neural pathways to form, sparking creativity and boosting productivity. If you want to be more productive when you return to work, make sure you don’t do any work while on vacation.
Get More Rest
Vacations are a time to relax and when I say relax, what I really mean is sleep! Catching up on much needed physical and mental rest is an important aspect of vacationing that you need to be taking advantage of if you want better productivity. Every year, American companies lose $63.2 billion in productivity due to sleep deprivation.5

A rested brain is better able to refocus on tasks and problems, can remember better, and makes fewer mistakes. A rested body has increased energy with which to concentrate. Vacations are a time to listen to your body’s needs and sleep more. Many people also drink less caffeine on vacation which allows the body to relax into a more natural rhythm of sleeping and waking. A healthy, well-rested body and mind are primed and ready to work when you return.
Plan Ahead
Of course, you can’t plan for a restful and productivity-boosting vacation without having an actual plan. Vacations that are planned a minimum of two months ahead of time are said to be the most beneficial. This gives you time to plan the vacation, save money, and benefit from the small productivity boost you’ll get ahead of time via the anticipation of going away.

Good planning also reduces the number of problems encountered while on vacation. If you experience a lot of stress during your vacation, then you won’t be getting rest and you won’t come back productive. Expecting the unexpected–like travel delays, lost luggage, language barriers, etc.–will help you deal with these issues if or when they occur. Mentally preparing yourself for the potential challenges of vacation will help keep stress levels down and allow for proper work recovery time.

Vacations are a great way to boost productivity and creativity and reduce overall stress levels, but only if you do it right. This means taking longer (at least eight days) vacations frequently (at least yearly). It also means unplugging and catching up on rest so you can refocus your efforts when you return. Don’t forget that a good plan is the key to a good vacation.