THE BLOG

Don't Be a Vacation Loser

07/08/2014 06:42 pm ET | Updated Sep 07, 2014
Cavan Images via Getty Images

It's vacation season and the time of year to step away from work to recharge and refresh. Sadly, many people don't take all the vacation days they earn. Others who take vacation end up working during their time off which defeats the purpose entirely.

According to a Glassdoor survey, only 25 percent of employees with paid time off took all of their allotted vacation time. I am part of the 75 percent with copious amounts of unused vacation days -- shame on me!

This is not a badge of honor I wear proudly -- it's a waste of precious time I should be enjoying that I earned by working very hard. You may remember from a previous blog that I am a recovering workaholic and I'll admit -- it's a daily struggle. Some days are great and others I slide backwards down a slippery slope of overworking madness. My most immediate challenge is to unplug for an upcoming week away from work so I don't become a vacation loser.

I have deputized several accountability masters to hold me to the task of truly unplugging during my summer vacation. Life is too precious for all work and no play so here are some step-by-step instructions for those like me who need a primer on how to take a vacation and not work.

Digital Detox: I am tethered to my smart phone at least 14 hours a day. Like a Pavlovian response, my heart speeds up when I hear the audible sound of each new email or text message ping on my phone. I plan to leave my phone on for social calls but I vow not to conduct business by phone during my vacation. My goal is to not check email for a 7-day span -- the thought of which makes me twitch even as I write this. It would be great if I was going to a remote tropical island with no cell reception but I'll be visiting family in New Jersey so the temptation will be great and the bandwidth is plentiful. I aspire to reconnect with myself as I disconnect from technology.

Try Doing Nothing:My meditation practice is slow but steady and sitting still and quieting my mind for 10 minutes a day seems like an Olympic effort for this self-proclaimed Type A Energizer Bunny. I know in my gut that occasionally doing nothing -- some call it relaxing -- is good for your mind and your body. I plan to put this into practice during my week off and lounge around with a good book for at least some of the time. I'm tired of glorifying being busy and ready to relax. Wish me luck.

Clarity of Expectations: I've been really good at telling my friends and colleagues to unplug during their vacations and I honor their time away. At least I write: "Don't read this email until you get back from vacation," when I send messages to their crowded inboxes. I know it's my responsibility to teach others how to treat me at work and at home. I must lead by example and tell my colleagues that I'm really unplugging during my week away. I'll break down and turn on my out of office email message so my absence won't cause alarm for the masses.

Give Up The Guilt: I was raised Catholic so I'm really good at guilt. My people have made it a professional sport. On New Year's Eve four years ago, I gave up guilt when I finally realized it was a useless emotion that was never used for anything positive. Don't ever succumb to feeling guilty about taking a vacation. You work really hard and vacation time is a form of payment which should be valued as part of your overall compensation package. It's always going to be a crazy time at work and there is rarely a good time to leave since something important always needs to be done. If you don't prioritize yourself, neither will anybody else. Enough said.

Live in The Moment: Whether you are staying put to do some home improvement projects or embracing on an exotic destination during your well-deserved time off, consider how you embrace each day. Breathe in the flexible schedule you can keep. Be aware of how your body relaxes differently when you don't have to commute. Enjoy the freedom to make choices based on what you want, not what you must accomplish in a given workday. Even if you stay at home, vacation should be paradise.

A Remedy for Burnout: Enjoy the opportunity to sleep longer and replenish your body with nourishing rest. Arianna Huffington shared this tip in a piece about 10 things she wished she had known in her 20s.

"Not only is there no tradeoff between living a well-rounded life and high performance, your performance will actually improve when your life includes time for renewal, wisdom, wonder and giving. Taking this advice will save you a lot of unnecessary stress, burnout, and exhaustion!"

Back to The Grind: I'll admit, thinking about the re-entry back to planet work makes me anxious and I haven't even taken my vacation yet. But I am not going to let that ruin my forthcoming time away. I know that I will have hundreds of emails and voice mails to answer and my schedule will fill up with meetings before I can post my vacation photos to Shutterfly. The work will always be there and I actually love my career so going back won't be all that bad. I need to give myself permission not to expect that everything will be back up to speed on my first day.

I just might get used to this vacation concept and take some random days to burn some banked vacation time for wellness breaks and "just because" days. Time off is meant to restore your mind and your body so you can come back to work refreshed and rejuvenated. Take it from a former vacation loser - enjoy your career and love your life! And please - don't contact me during the next week since I'll be on vacation.

Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Director of Professional Enrichment at the Indiana University Alumni Association and contributes to AOL Jobs, CNN Money, London based - The Rouse and More Magazine. She is working on a TV series about career & life empowerment for women and hosts the podcast series Your Working Life. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.