Get in the Right State of Mind for Vacation

by Alexander Caillet, Jeremy Hirshberg, and Stefano Petti

Quick Takes

  • Focus on the most critical activities before vacation
  • Create a clean work and home environment to return to
  • Transition into your vacation slowly
  • Disconnect once your vacation starts
  • Be present, try new things, and have fun

Have you ever been on vacation and been unable to relax? The whole point of taking time off is to achieve the calm, happy, and energized (CHE) states of mind that make us most productive and effective both while we’re away and when we’re back in the office and our daily routines. So how can you make sure that happens?

Stage 1: Prepare

Prepping for a vacation can be stressful. From scheduling time that aligns with school schedules and extracurriculars, planning activities, and packing bags to figuring out whether and how to complete, delegate, delay, or drop work, such steps can generate anxiety, frustration, and even anger. But if you succumb to these unproductive states of mind, you exacerbate the problem: You’ll be less likely to get everything done and leave yourself more to worry about while on holiday. Even during this period of scrambling, you must work toward CHE by focusing on only the most critical activities, ignoring distractions, and taking regular breaks that allow you to breathe, stretch your body, clear your mind, reflect, and socialize—all proven techniques for inspiring higher states of mind.

Right before you leave, create a work and home environment that will offer you a clear slate upon return: clean out the fridge; tidy up your living space; work ahead on assignments for your job, so deadlines aren’t missed; set an out-of-office message on your email; and recruit friends or coworkers to help out while you’re away. This type of thoughtful planning will augment your chances of maintaining a higher state of mind upon your return.

Stage 2: Transition

As you start your vacation, you’ll want to relax as quickly as possible. After all, you’re away from home (or at least away from the daily grind, if you’ve chosen a “staycation”) and finally have time for yourself and your family. But a more effective approach is to transition slowly, allowing your mind and body to get used to the change, particularly if your prep time was very stressful. Research shows that stress can dampen our immune system. It’s true that stress hormones like cortisol prop us up for a time. But if we relax too quickly, letting go of that support before our immune system can recuperate, we can expose ourselves to illness. So, maintain a similar level of mental and physical activity for the first few days of your holiday and then ease into full relaxation.

Stage 3: Vacation

Once you’re immersed in your holiday, operate in ways that will lead you to CHE:

  • Disconnect. Stop checking emails, calls, and texts, allowing only emergency information to come through. Let go of anything over which you have no control.
  • Be present. Truly appreciate each moment. Center yourself with pauses similar to the ones you should take at work but make them longer. Breathe in and out for a total of 10 seconds, check your body and ease any discomfort with stretching or movement, clear your mind, then activate a positive feeling of appreciation and gratitude for where you are at the moment.
  • Focus on health. Eat nutritious food, drink lots of water, exercise, and sleep. Take care of yourself.
  • Try new experiences. While away, try new experiences. This can include eating new foods, attending cultural events, engaging in physical activities, and taking part in challenging adventures. Move outside your zone of operation and take a few risks to increase your sense of being alive.
  • Really have fun. Ensure that laughter and smiles are part of your daily routine. Ask yourself: What will make this a special vacation? What is possible for me today? What really matters right now? What can I do to feel joyful, fulfilled, and rejuvenated?

Can I Really Unplug?

by Alexandra Samuel

No one wants to be the parent who is staring at their phone during holiday, missing memories in the making, but sometimes the prospect of cutting off all access to technology can cause more stress than if you just logged on to work once in a while. Make a plan for how much (or how little) you can use your devices during your time off by asking yourself these questions:

What’s the least amount of work connectivity I can get away with? Understand your office culture and separate your colleagues’ expectations from your own anxiety. What is the minimum connectivity that will be accepted at your job?

What do I still want to use technology for while I’m away? Make a list of the specific ways you want to use your phone, tablet, or computer while you’re on vacation and limit your tech use to what’s on that list. For example, I use the app Roadtrippers to organize my family’s itinerary and activities, an Evernote notebook as my personal guidebook, Yelp as a travel journal, and Facebook to stay in touch with friends.

Which accounts will I disconnect from? It’s easier to disconnect from entire networks or accounts than to ignore work-related correspondence once it hits your radar. Once you know what you want to keep doing—and how much you can stop doing—identify which accounts you’ll stay away from and plan accordingly, setting up vacation messages or alerts as necessary.

What do I and my fellow travelers expect from one another? Explain your technology game plan to friends and family. Agree on when it is and isn’t OK to use your devices—for example, you may agree that it’s fine to read the morning news on your tablet over breakfast, but not OK to look at sports scores over dinner. Setting shared expectations about tech use is especially important if you have kids you’re trying to keep offline or off-screen.

Asking these questions will help you disconnect without the additional stress, and you’ll be able to relax even with your devices in tow.

Adapted from “The Right Way to Unplug When You’re on Vacation,” on hbr.org, July 15, 2014 (product #H00WMR).

Your state of mind before and during vacation determines the quality of and benefits derived from your time off. Make sure to stay calm, happy, and energized through your prep, your transition and, finally, your well-deserved holiday. With restorative time off, you’re more likely to feel refreshed and be productive when you return to work and daily life.

Adapted from content posted on hbr.org, June 29, 2015.

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