Do you feel like you’re not getting things done in the way you’d like to? Like you can’t come up with creative solutions, or focus your energy on a tough task? It doesn’t even feel like it’s simply the Christmas party hangover or the Kris Kringle list you still have to get round to shopping for. You feel… well, worn out. You could really, really use a holiday about now.
Science is on your side. Research shows that long periods of work without sufficient time to recharge has a negative effect on thinking. When you are worn out, tasks that you used to do quickly and easily become really hard. The temptation is to tell yourself to press on, whereas really you need to give your brain – and your body – a rest.
We admire and elevate those who work hard, put in long hours and seem able to juggle a million things. To be able to do so is great, up to a point. Nobody can do it forever, and to keep on keeping on leads to burnout, at the expense of your own career and the business’s wellbeing.
So if leaving it all behind for a week – or more, if you’re lucky – seems stressful, here are some signs you need to listen to your brain’s signals that you need to check out for a while.
- You feel less enthusiastic than usual about your job
Science shows us that tiredness leads to negative mood. When you are in a negative mind space, not only will you feel you have lost your joy at work, you will be more critical of others and more irritable. Before you lash out or say something you regret, take some time off. If you can use it to spend time in a different place, so much the better. Plan visits to the beach, the mountains or even a park with the kids. Research shows that spending time in a different environment has measurable benefits.
- Everybody else is taking time off
Practically speaking, it can make sense to be away from your desk when everybody else is. Getting things done is difficult when you keep getting email autoreplies and voicemails from your customers and suppliers. Setting your own out of office message (or at least limiting the time you’ll check and respond to messages to once a day, if you must) can give you the time to recharge and get it all in perspective.
- You’re running out of good ideas
You are taking longer to solve problems and to come up with creative solutions. You can see your productivity is dropping, so why not take some free time to fuel energy, creativity and focus. When you come back relaxed and refreshed, you might well find the tasks that seemed insurmountable are quite easy.
- You will have time to socialise and meet new people
Social experiences can be both motivating and a wonderful way of networking. That guy you meet on the beach, the woman on your mountain trek can spark your curiosity about others and what they do, or even lead you to your next collaboration. Get out there and see what happens.
- You will have the opportunity to get back to nature
Instinctively we know we feel calm when we float in the ocean, look out over a valley still covered in morning cloud or walk in a forest. The science behind this feeling tells us that our blood pressure is lowered, our stress hormones drop and our endorphin levels are higher. Surfer Mick Fanning, who has just spent time in remote Alaska after a tough and tragic year, describes it like this: ‘I felt I’d just run out of fire, like I needed to restock the wood’.
Fanning describes having no phone calls, Instagram or email, allowing him to live in the moment. Leaving work at work is hard, but if you are thinking about it while you are supposedly taking a holiday, the benefits are lessened considerably. So switch off the work devices to make the most of your time off.
Studies show that performance increases after any break – a few minutes to make a cup of tea is good; a long holiday after a tough year is great. If you’re still not convinced, consider this: Australians had over 100 million annual leave days accrued in 2016, representing a huge cost on the books of employers. These are like a debt to employers. So a holiday will help balance the books as well as balance your mind.