What I Learned About Vacation and Productivity

Judith Guertin

What I Learned About Vacation and Productivity

I have been giving a lot of thought productivity and vacation time in the past few weeks. I realized, that until last year, I’d never taken a two-week vacation. I saw so many friends struggling with chronic illnesses and aging family members and I realized right now is all we have. Life is not a dress rehearsal! Today is your chance to live the life of your dreams.

Just how much vacation does the average American worker take each year? I heard on the radio that 42% of Americans did not take a vacation in 2014. Henrik Kjellberg President of Hotwire was quoted in the Huffpost travel blog dated 2/26/16 that, "in 2015, more than 135 million Americans (that's 56 percent) said they hadn't taken a vacation in the last 12 months."

Another statistic says Americans are taking the least amount of vacation time in almost four decades. (A vacation is defined as a "week off work in a place more than 100 miles from home"). Many companies have a “use it or lose it policy" when it comes to vacation time. Precious days may end up lost for good when the end of the year rolls around. Of the group that took zero vacation days, the percentage of women taking no vacation is higher than it is for men. Further, four out of 10 Americans leave unused vacation days on the books every year. And, what is the number one reason that they site for not taking a vacation? The top reason people give for not taking a vacation is they are too busy.

Here are a few facts about vacation time and productivity. Mark Osekind of Alertness Solutions reported on a study they performed about the respite effect of vacation on increasing performance. He reported that a vacation can increase our performance by up to 80% and that the reaction times of workers returning from vacation can be as high as 40% greater than before their vacations. I read another study that reported you get more done more quickly if you step back to recharge your brain. Your body needs breaks from productivity even if it's something as small as 30 seconds, all the way up to an extended vacation. Some of the activities that boost your productivity include: getting regular physical exercise, talking with friends, meeting friends for lunch, coffee or a drink, hiking, cooking, taking a drive, or doing crafts. Let's add a nice vacation to this list too!

Think about all the tools and devices that need time to recharge. They include autos, computers, notebooks, cell phones, tablets, and power tools. Just like our devices, we need time to plug in and recharge. That is what vacation is, a time to let your brain and body recharge.

We need to take the time to recharge, but we don't. We can't or, so we tell ourselves. So many workers today are taking their lunch break at their desk or they're doing chores at lunchtime. People who work from home are working longer hours. They take calls and reply to email outside of office hours and they're not getting any exercise. Swedish researchers found that if you take as little as 2.5 hours a week to exercise you can increase your productivity. This is true even though you may login 6.25% less time at work according to Mihaly Csiksszenthmihaly author of Flow.
Fewer hours at work and more productivity sound good to me! So, what is a person to do? My mentor, Barbara Hemphill taught me that the goal of a productivity businesses is to help people to "accomplish their work and enjoy their lives."


So, I challenge you to look at what you can do to work on the second part...the "enjoy your life" part.


  1. Draw some brackets around your work time, shut out the notifications, distractions, and interruptions. I know this is a hard, but you can do this. Even one or two distraction-free hours can support amazing productivity.
  2. Take a break from work for a real vacation! To the best of your ability, make it technology free. If you must stay connected to work, have a plan to unplug as much as possible. Your brain and body need rest.
  3. Collect experiences and not things. Be there to see the beautiful sunsets, the smiles of your family, the breathtaking scenery of the world. Yes, take some photos, but take in those moments, see them, feel them, hear them don't simply click a picture to show to others. These experiences will fill up your creative reservoir and will bring you peace.
  4. Take time to read a book, listen to wonderful music, just breathe, or meditate.

Enjoy your vacation and your recharged productivity!