It's a sad fact of life that vacations -- that precious time off reserved specifically for the purpose of relaxing -- can often cause us additional stress. Sure, we may be jetting off to some exotic and stress-free paradise, but research suggests vacations come at some cost to our well-being: The period before a vacation can cause stress -- so many preparations -- and the positive effects of time off are short-lived.
Three-day weekends can follow a pattern similar to the dreaded "seven-day trap" of vacations: we spend Saturday trying to relax, we spend Sunday actually relaxing, and then we fret all Monday about returning to work on Tuesday.
But if approached in a certain way, a three-day weekend can boost your well-being, work performance and productivity in the long term. The first step? Accepting that getting into vacation mode will require a concerted effort on your part.
"People are working at historic intensity, ever-connected and consumed by work," wrote Matt Richtel The New York Times. "So it’s not surprising that even though your body might be comfortably prone on a beach towel, your brain is still scrolling through to-do lists back home. In fact it is unrealistic, experts say, to expect your thoughts to stop on a dime."
Here are five ways to get the most of your Labor Day weekend -- and start the fall season feeling energized, relaxed and refreshed.
1. Disable your phone's email function.
More than six in 10 Americans will work during their vacation this year -- 38 percent of whom say that they'll spend time checking their work email. If unplugging for the weekend is in the realm of possibility for you, consider going off the grid and disabling your work email -- you'll be guaranteed to come back to work on Tuesday feeling more refreshed than if you had spent the weekend glued to your phone.
"We're addicted to that little notification," Gemini Adams, author of The Facebook Diet, told the Huffington Post in July. Even a free 15 minutes spent checking through your emails can get you hooked again, so if you really want to get away, taking an "out of sight, out of mind" approach could be your best bet.
2. Chill out with some tried-and-true de-stressors.
Whether it's a long run, a soak in the tub, or a yoga class, a long weekend is the perfect time to catch up on all those de-stressing activities that you don't make time for during the workweek. Even if you only have 10 minutes to unwind, the way you spend those little chunks of time can make a big difference in how you feel when you return to work.
"The key is to choose something you find truly renewing," The Energy Project CEO Tony Schwartz wrote in The New York Times earlier this month. "At a minimum, that usually requires changing channels -- not doing whatever you have been doing."
3. Plan and prioritize.
If completely unplugging isn't an option, take an honest look at your workload and decide exactly what and how much you'll need to do over the weekend. What is essential to finish -- and what can wait until next week? Be discerning. As BusinessWeek advises, "Remember that... the dumb stuff can ruin your vacation."
Make a list of action items that need to get done, and take advantage of downtime -- on a train, or waiting at the airport during a flight delay -- to get them done without taking too much time away from more enjoyable activities, says BusinessWeek.
4. When on vacation, try breaking your habits.
Even short vacations can be a great time to initiate positive change by using the change of pace to change your habits.
"For the overachievers, who want to return not only recovered but a step ahead in personal progress, vacations are a prime time to form new habits or break old ones," writes Sasha VanHoven on 99U. "A new environment means a clean slate of all the cues that trigger ingrained habits, and that means room for you to form new ones."
5. Streamline your back-to-work to-do list.
The stress of returning to work after a long weekend can easily bump up your stress levels and throw you off whack until Saturday rolls around again. So when you get back to the office on Tuesday, minimize your stress by creating a concrete, realistic list of things that need to be prioritized, and things that can reasonably get done by the end of the day. Leave out any non-urgent tasks while you tackle the important stuff.
"Optimizing a to-do list will help with several things," a Scoop.it Blog noted. "You’ll learn to better (and more realistically) manage your time, have a more sustained sense of progress over your task load, and will also lose the sense of foreboding that often leads to procrastination of important tasks. Curating the tasks in it is one step toward a more meaningful day."
If you tend to keep your to-do lists on your devices, try these productivity apps that can help you get it all done.