Monday, June 23, 2008

Vacation Time: How Much Is Enough?

Today is Day 1, back at work from three weeks off. That's a week more than most United States employees get in a year, but I'm choosing a more Euro-style vacation schedule for myself. Allowing myself three weeks off felt like a momentous decision - would people think I was lazy? Would I lose business? Would I be.... bored? But those doubts were unfounded. Taking this time off was one of the best decisions I've made in a long time.

Week One
The first week was a strange combination of guilt and relief. I kept thinking, "I should be working!" but managed to ignore that little voice. I took myself camping to force time away from the computer and phone, which served as a terrific jump-start to the time off. Mostly, I rested. I slept more than usual. I found myself thinking about work quite a lot, especially the first few days, and made lists of things to remember when I returned.

Week Two
During the second week of my time off, I gradually began to think about work less and less. This week has mostly disappeared in my memory into a fog of laziness. I'd intended to clean my house, but that didn't happen. I read a book. Played computer games. Laid on the couch and watched DVDs. In short, during week two of my vacation, I was utterly lazy.

Week Three
I felt centered, introspective and calm as the third week passed. I wrote in my journal. Rode my bike. My house finally began to improve, without much apparent effort. I began to think about routines, changes I need to make in my life. Thoughts of work began to creep into my head again, but more as possibilities and "want to's" than "have to's."

After this experience, I believe more than ever that the two weeks' vacation allotted to most Americans is simply not enough. For most of those people, the days off come a few at a time, because companies don't allow more than one week off consecutively. But for me, two weeks was barely enough to decompress, and the third week gave me a little time to move forward with positive changes. After two weeks, I'd have dreaded returning to work. After three, I am energized, even looking forward to it.

This sort of time off is a policy I intend to implement in my own work life. Three weeks off, a couple times a year, with a few more days here and there as needed. After this experience, I believe without a doubt that if more people were allowed this sort of vacation schedule, we would be happier, healthier, and more creative and productive as a nation. Marriages would be stronger, crime rates lower. We'd lose weight and have lower rates of mental illness.

Sadly, most people don't have the freedom to choose their own vacation days. But maybe the trend toward flexible work hours will begin to include more vacation time, and those who hold the reins on our time off will realize the benefit of a relaxed, creative work force.