The importance of taking a break from work (and why you need it)

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With the end of year break just around the corner, for most of us it means an office shutdown. Time away from desks to spend with family and friends, enjoying the summer weather at least that’s how it works in theory. In reality, breaking away from the daily grind can be difficult. Resisting the urge to answer that message or check your email “just one more time” can not only put a damper on your holiday for you and those around you, it can also affect your job performance and health in the long run.

The importance of taking time off

Is taking a holiday even worth it? It certainly is. In fact, it’s one of the best things you can do for your health – especially after the year we’ve all endured. Taking time out for a holiday allows your brain to get more creative, reset for better problem solving, and return with laser-sharp focus. Add to that a positive mood, better sleep, and the question isn’t should you take a break, but how soon can you get away? In today’s always-connected world, the fear is that unplugging will mean losing business while you’re away — or your sanity upon your return. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

How to unplug before you go

1. Have your return plan in place
There’s nothing worse than coming back from a holiday and feeling your state of zen vanish because you don’t know how to get back in the work groove.
Give your future self a break and come up with a plan of attack before heading out. Note key project details you’re waiting to hear back about, anyone you need to follow up with, and deadlines and deliverables you should tackle on day 1 of your return. You’ll be able to dive back in effortlessly.

2. Don’t overload your December calendar
The year is almost over — and the closer it gets, it’s OK to start saying “no” to things or pushing non-urgent meeting requests to the beginning of new year. And it’s also OK to turn down social requests. There are only so many hours in the day and only so many engagements you can reasonably attend. If it’s not necessary and/or exciting to you, it doesn’t need to be on your schedule.

3. Figure out how unconnected you can get
Although the ideal scenario for some is to unplug completely, if that’s not feasible, decide what is and put time constraints on it. If you need to respond to emails or take calls, for example, decide ahead of time when and how long you’ll be doing that for – say, 2-3 p.m. – and let your colleagues know that you’ll be available during those hours, but inaccessible the rest of the day.

4. Set up a useful out-of-office response
Make your out-of-office message work for you. Be sure to include the dates you’ll be gone and let people know that you won’t be checking messages and that if they need a response to something, get in touch with you again after X date. When available, you should include the contact details of someone else, who can address urgent issues in your absence.

Once you’re gone

1. Turn off notifications
There’s no need to hear that familiar email “ding” each time a new message comes in. You’re on holiday! Disable notifications for your work email, diary, and any other apps you use for work. If some are used only for work-related activities, you can take it a step further and uninstall them for the duration of the holidays.

2. Get everyone else on board, too
It’s easier to commit to keeping away from work when everyone else is doing the same. Before getting together with family and friends, make a pact to restrict or severely limit time spent on work. You’ll be able to spend quality time together and also hold each other accountable.

3. Stick to designated 'technology time'
Did you set a specific time to check emails or get in touch with people? If so, set two alarms that’ll remind you when that hour starts and finishes. Don’t start before or finish after those alarms!
Also consider doing the same with your personal tech use and take a mental break from keeping up with everything on Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat. Stock up instead on books (yes, on paper or a dedicated e-reader), board games, face-to-face time with friends and family, and other activities you enjoy.

4. Lead by example
If you’re the manager of a team or your business, your employees will be following your lead as to how they should approach the holidays. Resist the urge to send emails about things that can wait until they’re back in the office; even if you’re not expecting an answer until then, the feeling might be that a prompt answer is expected. Likewise, when you’re away, don’t “check in” constantly or follow up on messages unless absolutely necessary. Your team will wonder if they should be doing the same.

5. Enjoy!
Remind yourself that this time to recharge isn’t a luxury — it’s a necessity! Give yourself permission to truly disconnect from work stresses so that once you’re back at work, you’re productive and able to knock off goals better than ever.