It's no surprise that most adults are overworked and overwhelmed but the counterintuitive reality is that many are not taking all the paid time off they've earned.
According to Project: Time Off
"After years of being asked to 'do more with less' workers are overstretched, stressed out, and exhausted. The always-on, 24/7 American work culture is taking a heavy toll, leading to 429 million wasted vacation days that undermine our personal, business, and economic well-being. Simply put, taking earned time off is essential for a productive workforce, strong bonds with family and friends, and a fulfilled life."
Taking time off will actually help you be more productive and healthy in life and career.
Mindfulness is All The Rage
Mindfulness defined is the state of active, open attention to the present. Instead of becoming numb about how exhausted, stressed and overworked you are - take a moment to be mindful and really listen to your body to assess what you need in your life to thrive.
I often see busy professionals who are stuck on the never-ending treadmill of work and life and don't allow themselves to really consider what they need. Start small with a 5-minute mindfulness check-in daily and ask yourself what's missing in your life. If you answer that you need more time or sleep - that's a good indication that you are ready for some well-earned time away from work.
Be The Boss Who Sets a Good Example
If you supervise others in your work environment understand that your behavior sets an example for your colleagues. If you honor your vacation time then your co-workers will follow suit and take what's owed to them without guilt or concern. Lead by example and really unplug during your time away.
Vacation should not just mean a change of scenery to do your work in an alternative location. Focus on your life and disconnect from work.
My boss recently shared that his week away during an atypical time of the year would allow him a chance to refresh, revitalize and avoid burnout. He came back focused and ready to go with a renewed sense of purpose. His spontaneous holiday inspired others to take time off when they needed it, not just during the traditional vacation season. Breaking with tradition was a win-win for the organizational culture.
A Stay-Vacay is OK!
You need not plan an exotic trip to enjoy vacation time. The concept of the stay-vacation can be just as reinvigorating or may enable you to catch up on the home front to take care of the household work that stresses you out on the weekends. Spring cleaning or closet purging can be very rewarding when you aren't stressed about doing it during limited weekend time.
If you don't have the financial resources to travel, consider shorter day trips. Contact the Visitor's Bureau in your community for ideas about how to get to know your city, state or region better. You don't have to travel far to get away and try something new and enjoy the benefits of time off.
A Slimmer Waist and Healthier Heart with Time Away from Work
While taking a break from work is meant to be relaxing, what you may not know is that those who spend more time engaged in pleasurable leisure activities, including vacation time actually boast a healthier physique. The University of Pittsburgh conducted a study that showed people who logged more down time from work had a lower Body Mass Index and healthier waist circumference - two key predictors of overall good health.
A host of studies have highlighted the potential cardiovascular-health benefits of taking a vacation, including: reducing the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, decreased depression, and less stress.
Improve Your Productivity by Taking Your PTO
Ernst & Young conducted an internal study of its employees and found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings improved 8 percent, and frequent vacationers were also significantly less likely to leave the firm.
Do Something to Recharge Regularly
Non-American work cultures encourage taking wellness days in the form of time away from work to focus on health and wellbeing. Americans need to catch up on this pro-active investment in our health. From spa visits to a hike in the woods, or simple down time to enjoy your favorite non-work related reading - do something just for you on a regular basis and reap the wellness rewards.
I schedule regular massages or reflexology sessions to keep my body aligned and relaxed and I see this as an essential part of my wellness routine. A non-weekend day of rest every now and then can also do wonders to help my body rest and reinvigorate.
Sleep Better with Time Off
The rejuvenating effects of time away from work can have a long-term impact on your wellbeing, like fewer headaches and body pains, according to a study from the University of Vienna. Additionally, vacations can help sleep-disrupting habits like checking your smart phone before bed. Time away helps you hit reset on multiple levels to give your body what it needs to rest, relax, and reboot from exhausting work on a regular basis.
Enhance Your Love Life!
A Nielsen survey showed that those who take regular vacations from work report that romance is alive in their relationship. What you may not know is that sex has many health benefits including helping defend your body from germs, viruses and other intruders, according to researchers at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania.
Ponder Your Dreams
Ever feel like you are so busy working that you forgot what excites you and makes you feel fulfilled? Take a PTO day to dream BIG and consider what you need and want in your life and career. Specific down time to consider the possibilities will allow you to appreciate what you have and also plan for what you want down the road. Carve out time to honor your dreams and create an action plan to make them happen.
Instead of being a work martyr, look ahead and consider how you utilize your precious PTO over the next year. Block off single days for wellness breaks in addition to longer term chunks of time for vacations on your calendar now. Don't be a vacation loser by leaving this well-earned benefit unused in a given work year. Paid time off has tremendous value and was put in place to help you live a healthier life. It's up to you to take advantage of this resource and honor yourself in the process.
Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book, "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" now in the second edition, and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Executive Director of Career & Professional Development at the Indiana University Alumni Association and contributes to Ellevate Network, CNN Money, and the British online magazine - The Rouse. She hosts the online series,Thrive! about career & life empowerment for women and hosts the international podcast series Your Working Life- check it out on iTunes. Follow her on Facebook,LinkedIn, and Twitter.