You know, there’s a persistent myth that working without a break proves that you’re more productive than anyone else. The myth is so pervasive that recent surveys show that less than 25% of workers use their total earned vacation every year. Unfortunately, refusing to take a break from work makes you less productive, not more.

So, why is it so hard to break off from work? Well, as a former teacher, I can tell you it’s a big deal to get a substitute teacher. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard teachers at all experience levels say that it’s easier to be at school than get lesson plans and schedules ready for a substitute. I get that. But the fact is that if we continue to work when we’re exhausted and burned out, we’re not helping anyone.

Think about it. When we’re exhausted, or even worse, burned out, we’re also out of patience. We snap at people. We leave things undone. Since we can’t function as a whole person, we can’t perform at the level we want to, which leads to more frustration and burn out.

We’re not irreplaceable

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking we’re irreplaceable, that nobody can do our work as well as we can. The only truth in that thinking is that nobody else can do our jobs the way we do. But they can do the job, or part of the job. And, sometimes, we just need to let somebody share – or even carry the load. I’m pretty certain that our businesses (or classrooms) will not go under when we take time to take care of ourselves.

In Episode 84 of our Uniquely Brilliant Podcast, Diana points out that when we keep working, refusing to take time to rejuvenate, it’s like filling a tub with the stopper up. It’s not going to happen. We can’t rejuvenate; we can’t even relax.

Staying busy. Avoidance technique?

Maybe you’re like me and fall into the trap of constantly working and staying busy so I have no time to think and reflect. When I refuse to take a break and work for 10 days straight, I am making sure that I have no time to think. Staying crazy busy like that is a tried and true avoidance technique which leads to the question of what we’re trying to avoid.

I know for me, I’m staying busy, doing the least important work so I don’t have to do the work that scares me. And, for me, that’s always marketing. You know the old adage, just because you build a better mousetrap, doesn’t mean anyone is going to buy it? Well it’s true. You have to let people know that awesome mousetrap is out there – you have to market it.

When I work on marketing I feel like I’m putting everything on the line. That it’s either a 100% win or a total loss. And, that’s just not true. As I know, and coach about all the time, a total loss only comes when I don’t do anything. Well let me tell you, staying busy is the number one best way to not do anything important. And, when I’m totally worn out from staying busy while know I’m focusing on the wrong stuff, I lose on all fronts.

Let the air out of the balloon

So here’s another comment from the podcast that really resonated with me. Again, it’s from Diana: “Sometimes you have to let the air out of the balloon that’s you and let it flip all over the place.” Isn’t that a great image? I know that when I’m burned out I feel like a balloon that’s about to pop.

How do we let the air out of the balloon? We carve out, claim, stake out, identify – you choose the word that works for you – space to take a vacation. When we proactively take a vacation, we release ourselves from responsibilities before we fall apart.

Vacations make room

When we take a vacation, we create room in our brains for new connections to develop. By removing ourselves from our normal work environment and our normal home environment, we open ourselves up to the possibility of new insights and inspirations that we may not even realize we need. Things we don’t even know we need can come to us both during and following a break.

Two stories. One of my clients is going on a crazy awesome vacation in a couple of weeks. Last week she started working on a new career exploration exercise that I created to help her figure out what her next career move is going to be. So, I suggested that she spend some time working on the exercise before she goes on vacation instead of after. She was pretty stunned – because I am a vacation evangelist – until I explained my thought process.

Slow cookers

I know that if she spends some time (not tons of time) on the exploration exercise before she leaves, and then doesn’t spend any time consciously thinking about it while she’s on vacation, she will have new insights into what she wants to do.

Here’s why. Although she’s not consciously thinking about the exercise, it’s in the slow cooker part of her brain on low speed, simmering, with little bubbles coming to the top, bubbles that are new insights into her career path.

I’m taking a vacation darn it!

My story. A couple of months ago, I was just exhausted. I’d been networking 5 days a week, putting in days that started at 7:30am with a networking event and ended at 10pm with another event. In between, I was seeing clients, running the Women’s Tech Conservatory, and my two Next Chapter Meetup groups. I had also had several successful months financially.

As I was doing my books (I hate doing the books – accounting classes are the reason I never finished my business degree), I realized that, for the first time, I was set for the next month. I thought about it. I looked at the calendar and realized that Memorial Day weekend was coming up. Then I just jumped in and took 5 days off. If you look back at the blog posts, you’ll see I didn’t write a blog post that week, or send out an email. I didn’t work at all. I didn’t even edit and post our podcast.

Different strokes for different folks

And I didn’t go anywhere either. I had a staycation right at my house where I read 8 or 10 books and binge watched Call the Midwife and Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch!) and I didn’t think about work. Okay, full disclosure, I totally agonized over not writing a blog post or editing the podcast, but I got over it.

What did happen is that I pushed my reset button. I created room for those bubbles to simmer up and give me new ideas for marketing, for the Tech Conservatory, for how I coach. I found my energy, and, when I went back to work, I was ready to go. And, of course, I had new insights into my business and into my client work. The vacation was liberating. By submerging myself in books and other people’s points of view, I got out of my own head and out of my own way.

The 110% Club

For me, it boils down to this. I like to function at a minimum of 110%. I can’t even get to 100% if I’m burned out. A vacation, even it’s just a few days, gets me back to 110%. So try it. Take a break from work; take a vacation – even it’s a staycation – and tap into insights and energy that you thought you had lost. They’re out there waiting for you. I promise.

What are you waiting for?