Bernard Lagat is one of the best American runners ever. He’s run in five Olympics, won two world championships, and continued to remain atop the international running scene into his early forties. Lagat’s success has a lot to do with his dedication and discipline to many factors that keep him physically and psychologically healthy, but one of the core disciplines that he attributes his sustained success to is the practice of rest. At the end of his year, Lagat takes 5 weeks, hangs up his sneakers, and spends little to no time exercising. This extended shutdown allows his body to recover from grinding 80-mile running weeks. Lagat’s year-end break might be the longest in his field, but the break itself is not unusual. Almost all his peers at the top of professional running take similar breaks, ranging from a week and a half to five weeks. As Olympic 1500-meter silver medalist Leo Manzano once told the Wall Street Journal, he takes at least a month to recover from the season. His reason is simple: “It feels like I’ve been going non-stop since November.”
Do you feel like you’ve been going non-stop or close to it for a while? 2020 was the year of canceled vacations and blurred lines when it comes to work-life balance, and this is a problem. Numerous studies indicate that performance nose-dives when we operate for extended periods without a break. In addition, the advantages of a vacation are clear. Well-planned and executed vacations have been linked to improved performance, lower stress, and better overall mental health. It also sparks greater creativity—for example, Lin-Manuel Miranda imagined Hamilton while on vacation.
With summer quickly coming upon us and some of us planning to finally take those trips that we delayed, we’d like to provide some guidelines to help you reap the most benefits from your time away.
Identify the type of experience you want to have.
Have you ever gone on a vacation and felt like you needed a vacation from your vacation? This sometimes happens when people poorly plan their vacations. The ideal getaway is different for each of us. What is your idea of fun? What allows you to recharge? What nourishes you? For some, it’s taking in the sun by the water. For others, it’s exploring a new location, trying new food, or engaging in an adventure sport. Knowing these things will help inform potential destinations and activities. Find people and things that spark joy for you, and let yourself get lost in those activities.
A 2017 Glassdoor study revealed that over two-thirds of Americans work while “off.” This may seem harmless, but this practice has been shown to negatively affect our motivation. Unplugging from work is a big part of what makes a vacation feel like a vacation (You’re literally “vacating” the space). It’s downtime for our brains from the barrage of mental demands that come with our jobs. It creates the space for creativity to emerge and allows us to be fully present with our families or travel partners. To be sure, disconnecting can be tricky—many people fear missed opportunities or dread the back-to-work email grind. To minimize this, identify a co-worker who can answer questions while you’re away and indicate that individual, as well as how you’ll be following up (if at all) in your out-of-office message.
Spend time outdoors.
We recognize that not everyone is a fan of the great outdoors, but research indicates that spending time in nature benefits us mentally and physically. Moreover, these benefits are reaped whether you are in a national park or an urban park and with as little as two hours in nature per week. Whether you’re traveling or staying home, build in time to be outdoors. This may be taking a morning walk, skipping stones on a lake like when you were a kid, watching the waves crash at the beach, or picnicking in a local park.
Final Thought: It’s way too tempting for leaders to keep on working and skip or skimp on vacation, but don’t. Set some time aside and start planning how you can make the most of your paid time off. You deserve the break, and your leadership will be better because you took it.