The Strategy of Time Off

I can think of so many times in my work history where I stayed at the office until some ridiculous hour the night or two before I left for vacation. Then I paid for the time off again with even more to do post-trip.

On the one hand, we covet time off and can’t wait until we can get some. The flip side is that we don’t like the way it leaves us feeling before and after. 

Maybe you’re like a lot of people – wondering, “is taking time off is really worth it?”

I’ve already heard this question several times in the last week and we aren’t even in June. 

This is such an issue that 55% of workers are giving up their PTO altogether. This is at a time when we need it most, considering that stress and burnout are STILL on the rise in our workplace cultures. 

As a result, we have a false script running that’s killing our mindset:

  • Slammed is normal.
  • Distractions are impossible to overcome.
  • I have no choice or agency over my time.
  • I must work more hours in order to keep up.
  • Life will be reduced to the motions until I retire – if I ever retire.

We say we hate stress, but in reality our culture idolizes it. If we’re not careful, we will also buy the lie that it’s a badge of honor.

Here’s the thing.

Burnout often calls out for immediate relief, because we’re usually past the point of needing help. Sometimes that means reactive time off, sometimes it means a sabbatical, and for some it means burning it all down and quitting altogether. 

And even when time off is exactly what we need, it’s not the holy grail we think it is. 

When it’s not strategic, we come back to the same scenario we left and the cycle begins again. 

According to leadership expert and author, Cary Nieuwhof, it’s because we’re looking at the wrong solution. He said:

“Time off won’t heal you, when the problem is how you spend your time on.”

The struggle to stay strong in the race is real, especially when things feel so uncertain. 

No one wants to step off the gas. AND – if you don’t make the choice when and how you’ll do that, your body and mind will eventually make the decision for you. 

Stress can steal your passion and health, and it doesn’t play favorites. As leaders, you have agency over your decisions, as long as you think so. 

Here’s the truth.

Every one of us has the same 24 hours in a day. 

We get to control three things: where we spend our time, where we spend our energy and how we choose our priorities. 

Unless you’re on an assembly line or hourly worker, Nieuwhof’s research shows us that YOU control roughly 88% of your time. 

If this is true, we HAVE to think differently about our time. It’s a total mindset shift and it’s required if we want fulfillment, passion, and health to stay or return to our lives. 

You get to decide: could you handle the pace you’re living now, forever? More importantly, would you want to? 

If the answer is no, the following steps are a great place to start shifting your mindset:

  1. Audit your stress. What’s making you tired? What patterns and habits tend to leave you feeling overwhelmed and overworked? 
  2. Audit your beliefs. What are you believing about your stress? Is it a badge of honor or something you want to separate from? 
  3. Get honest about your time. Where are you spending time on what matters and where do you give up agency and allow others to hijack it?
  4. Consider your approach. Name the ways you approach time that leave you unfocused and overwhelmed. 
  5. Decide one thing you’ll change. We’ll change nothing if we don’t commit to something. Name it – the smallest thing you’ll do on your toughest day. You have to start somewhere. 

Time is the ONLY thing we can never get back. If there is anything that matters most, it’s how we spend it. 

I don’t know about you, but I am constantly re-evaluating this. What if you did, too? What might we all get in return? 

At the very least, you may never need another vacation from your vacation again.