Productive Vacations

As Louis Riel day just passed, it seemed appropriate to weigh in on holidays. Previously, I had a tendency to plan out all work for a holiday, then proceed to sleep in and spend the day leisurely before ending the day feeling guilty over not completing any of the tasks I had intended to do. After repeating this negative cycle many times for holidays of varying lengths, I came up with a remedy. The solution is to ask myself one important question the day before the holiday: do I want to work on my holiday or relax on my holiday?

If my answer is the latter, I sleep in, spend the day leisurely, and don’t feel guilty about not accomplishing tasks. If however, I choose the former (being who I am, I tend to choose the former), I treat the day like a day at work. This means setting my two alarm clocks (I tend to backhand my alarm clocks), waking up before dawn, and getting down to work just as I would on any regular weekday. The only difference is that rather than running to the office, I just stay at my house, working on my tasks. I maintain the mindset however, that this is a workday and that I need to get work done. After my tasks are done, I act like my workday is finished and spend the rest of the day however I want.

An extension of this practice I learned from friend and writer Kathy Block (check out her work here), about staying productive during holidays. As a mother of two that works full-time, to find time to write she typically uses her vacation days. What she does differently is that she does not book off a Monday or a Friday as people typically do, she books off a Wednesday or Thursday! The reasoning behind this is that if you book off a Friday or Monday in the spirit of obtaining a 3 day weekend, you are setting yourself up to be non-productive. As much as we like to say that we will get things done on this day, we have a tendency to treat these days as an extension of the weekend and fall into the non-productive habits associated with these days.

Alternatively, by taking a vacation day in the middle of the week, the impetus to work is maintained, as a Wednesday is associated with a lot of things, but relaxing is not one of them. We are creatures of habit and are much more likely to continue working on the days that we associate with work. By taking vacation time during the middle of the week, we are simply catering to our habits.

The take home message is to decide prior to the holiday whether you are going to work or relax. If you want to relax, then take a long weekend, enjoy the day fully, and then return to the grind! If however, you want to accomplish tasks, then treat the vacation as a workday and maintain the practices you associate with it.

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