People are fearful of taking time off from American jobs. While the reasons can vary, a recent report by the Pew Research Center has revealed that 46% of American employees who are entitled to vacation days take less time off than they are offered.
Time Off From Work
I understand. I’m writing this article at the end of the week, which is why I’ve sought advice from an expert. Rashelle Isip, a New York City-based productivity consultant and time management (time off)coach, has written extensively on time management. She’s an order expert for time management.
I know I’m not great at time off from work. Part of that is because I’m a bit of a control freak (I think things won’t get done without me), and part of it is because I want to keep my clients and colleagues happy (I’m squarely in the people-pleaser camp). According to Pew Research Center studies, one of the most common reasons – and one they attribute to taxes, accounting, and legal professions – for not taking time off is the fear that if they take too much time off, they might fall behind at work. Others might worry about how it affects their colleagues.
But it shouldn’t make a difference. As the saying goes, “People take vacations,” especially during the summer.
While taking a break may feel like a luxury, it shouldn’t be. According to Isip, taking time off is a practical necessity: if you’re burnt out, you can’t provide your clients with the best possible service.
In fact, this is one of the first things you’ll hear when you board an airplane: the flight attendant always instructs you to “secure your oxygen mask before helping others.” If you’re running on empty, you can’t effectively assist others.
While we know this is true, in industries with heavy client service demands, such as tax, accounting, or law, it can be challenging to see the value in taking time for yourself. But Isip suggests that if this is a fundamental concern, it might be the best time to reassess how you work and who your clients are. When it comes to clients who demand your time constantly, you can ask yourself, “Do I want clients like this?”
Time Off and Plan for Relaxation
For many of us, just scheduling some time off can feel like a significant milestone. What next?
Isip advises that as part of your vacation or break planning, you should include a re-entry plan so that everything doesn’t hit you all at once. I’m a list maker, so she suggested creating a brief list of items for when I first return to the office. This way, those to-dos don’t loom large in my thoughts and aren’t front and center.
Part of this re-entry plan? Scheduling meetings for your return. Often, we pile up meetings to catch up on lost time. But she suggests scheduling those catch-up meetings for later—much later. When you return, they’ll want to take the time to get organized and regain what you’ve lost. Scheduling those meetings for a few days (or weeks) after your return allows you the permission to ease back into your work routine.
Your plan should include setting boundaries. Before heading on your break, Isip advises that you think about whether you want people to contact you while you’re away. When we know the purpose is to completely disconnect, in reality, many of us may still say yes. If that’s the case, she says you need to manage expectations.
Isip is a fan of auto-responses. I often feel guilty about working on vacation, but she says using them effectively can be a good idea. Communicating your availability to clients and colleagues can help reduce some of the tension associated with constantly checking emails. The same goes for voicemails. And, she notes, offering advice when you’re available is equivalent to posting notices and markers for timekeepers in businesses – it’s a good advertisement and lets people know when they can realistically expect to hear back from you.
If you can’t completely disconnect, consider setting boundaries on when to take calls or halt work. I’ll admit to being a big fan of this practice. When I need to return client calls, I try to schedule them in blocks of time so my day isn’t interrupted by a string of calls. I do the same for less urgent emails – I allocate an hour to respond. This helps me become more productive during the week.
Isip’s advice is to make it clear that you’re only available “in case of a true emergency.” The key to this practical wisdom? Make sure your colleagues or assistants understand what constitutes a true emergency. If you have ongoing projects, outline actions that are both actionable and specific until your return.
- A letter from the IRS stating that they’ve received your correspondence but need more time for a response? It’s not so sensitive that it requires a call or email guarantee.
- Is the client finally receiving their documents? They can wait until your return.
- But an IRS revenue officer at your client’s doorstep? That’s a call or email that deserves attention (though thankfully unexpected visits aren’t the norm these days).
Isip recommends, “If it’s not urgent, allow it to wait.”
Time Off and Get Rid of Stress
This can be helpful in getting rid of stress. It includes turning off notifications on your phone – you can reactivate them when you return. And if you have apps that you use for work, like Slack, consider temporarily disabling them. You don’t need to worry about what’s happening in accounting or HR during your break.
As far as social media is concerned, Isip advises not to check social media during your break. It’s easy to get caught up in what’s happening elsewhere – and don’t focus on where you are. During the break, they say, “Enjoy disconnecting from the world around you.”
Relaxing can be challenging, especially for those of us who feel that we should always be doing something. Isip suggests that breaks can be the best time to practice not scheduling anything on your calendar, including tours and events. Over-schedulers behave the same during breaks, but she notes that there is no need to fill every moment of the day.
I admit that I find that piece of advice quite challenging. I prefer to stay busy. For those of us who find it difficult to do nothing, Isip has an alternative suggestion – spend an hour or more each day not doing anything related to work. Don’t fill that time and just see what happens.
She says, “We don’t slow down with a lot of work, but it’s possible.”
Do better from your side
If you can’t simply say ‘work,’ think about ways to spend your time without feeling like you’re working. It can involve professional development, reading articles, or watching a seminar you’ve been putting off. I admit that during last year’s winter holidays, I spent some time taking continuing legal education (CLE) courses—I needed the credit hours, and it wasn’t entirely leisurely, but it did help me remove a few things from my work to-do list and feel like I accomplished something while also allowing me to spend time with my family.
While holidays are often preferred for maximum relaxation, it’s helpful to know that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. ‘Make an effort within your limits,’ Isip advises. You need to be aware of your boundaries and plan accordingly.
However, for the most part, she emphasizes that vacations are small breaks. ‘Do the most you can,’ Isip says. You need to be aware of your limits and plan accordingly.
But, for the most part, she emphasizes that vacations are small breaks. ‘Make the most of your time,’ Isip says. You need to be mindful of your boundaries and plan accordingly.
Returning to the Office
Imagine you take a break, what’s next? If you’re anything like me, returning to the office after holidays can be a bit of a challenge because my mind automatically goes into figuring out what needs to be done when I get back. I want everything to fall into place quickly.
According to experts, this could be a mistake. Rushing back to work, you might be erasing any relaxation you’ve just gained. They advise that you need to ease back into your routines. When you return, look at all the things you need to do—no particular order required. Creating a mental dump of these things you need to address can be quite relieving. They suggest writing it all down and then start planning your next steps.
And remember those meetings you scheduled a few days or weeks ago? They give you some breathing space. Instead of rushing into meetings, you can check through emails and get an idea of what’s pending so you can be better prepared for the big comeback.
Practice during the year
Here’s the scoop: Some of our work routines are just that—routine. We often don’t keep track of how effectively we’re using our time. Taking a moment to think about how you can better structure your work schedule can be a game-changer.
For instance, you don’t always need to be glued to your desk just because that’s the expectation. Ask yourself, ‘Am I working to work, or am I genuinely being productive?’
If going back to the office feels like a hassle, Isip suggests trying short intervals. It can work during the summer or in less busy times throughout the year. When your job is deadline-based, like taxes, accounting, or law, you know when your busy periods are. If you know you’ll be working 24/7 in March but might have some peace in November, adjust your schedule accordingly.
For those with non-seasonal work, it might vary week by week. Isip recommends noting the natural ebbs and flows of your workweek and exploring ways to take breaks. For example, practice taking a full hour for lunch instead of eating at your desk. It’s a way to give yourself a break without taking time off from work.
Let’s make a plan right now
If you haven’t taken time off for yourself, whatever the reason may be, don’t lose heart. Isip encourages you to focus on your next break. ‘Let’s make a plan for time off,’ they say. And for those who find it difficult to disconnect from work, they advise leaving guilt behind. ‘It’s your duty,’ they assert. Vacation time and annual leave aren’t just orders on a schedule. In most full-time jobs, holidays are time off from work, and they are usually documented in your work contracts or detailed. They emphasize, ‘Taking time off is part of your job.’ Take time off from job your right. if you do not take time off then you compromise your health.
Your health first: No time for workouts