Holiday season is here, and with it some end-of-the-year days off. If you’ve kept up with the latest productivity research, you already know why it’s important to take that time off yourself.
But how should you spend that time? Is there a way to spend the holiday break that will improve your health and your mood, boost your brain function, improve your productivity, and send you into 2017 raring to go?
The answer is yes. And it has nothing to do with starting a new exercise regimen, taking up meditation, or going to a spa–although all of those are very beneficial to do. If you want to get the absolute best benefit out of your holiday break, here’s what you really need to do:
- Unplug from work.
Does this mean you should stop yourself from checking email or business voicemail and texts throughout the whole holiday week? Yes–if you can do that without driving yourself crazy or creating mountainous problems for yourself when you return to the office. But shutting down all contact with work for seven days isn’t always practical for entrepreneurs or small business leaders. It could even lead to you having a miserable week off filled with constant worry about what’s going on while you’re out of touch.
So find a work diet that makes sense for you during your holiday vacation. That might mean checking your email first thing in the morning, and then setting it aside for the rest of the day. It might mean spending an hour each afternoon checking in and working on urgent projects. It should not mean that you’re available all day any time for any kind of work-related question. That’s bad for all sorts of reasons. One of the biggest is that it sends the message to those who work with you that taking time away from work is not OK. It also deprives you of the distance and mental relaxation you need to think creatively. There’s a reason people tend to come up with their best ideas when they’re off fishing or hiking.
- Get plenty of sleep.
Sleep is extremely important to our work and our health and most of us don’t get enough of it. Studies show that vacations improve our well-being if we make sure to get all the sleep we need during our time off. Among other things, this means making sure you have a comfortable and relaxing place to sleep where you can be sure of getting all the rest you need. That’s a great reason to stay at a hotel rather than crash on a relative’s couch (in case you need one).
- Try out a new skill.
There’s plenty of evidence that learning something new, such as a language or musical instrument, has powerful brain-boosting power. So spend some of your vacation week trying out a new hobby or skill which could be anything from drone flying to paddle board yoga to water colours. Even if you never climb on a paddle board or pick up a paintbrush ever again, you’ll have stretched your mind in new ways that will create new connections in your brain. By taking yourself out of your usual mental patterns, you’ll go back to work refreshed.
- Do something memorable.
Two of the biggest benefits of a vacation are anticipating it beforehand and remembering it afterward. We can all think back on spectacular vacations we’ve experienced and we do think back on them fairly often. Every time we do, it makes us happy. There was a trek I took across the Southwest with my French aunt more than 20 years ago that still makes me smile when I remember it.
You can set out to create these kinds of memories. Plan to do something out of the ordinary that you’ll deeply enjoy, even if it’s just for one day, or even half a day, of your vacation. You’ll reap the benefits for a long time to come.
- Spend time with family, friends, or community.
Another benefit of a vacation is improved relationships with your partner, friends, or family because you get to spend time with them and give them your full attention. That’s good for them and good for you because there’s a lot of science that tells us that the more connected we are with loved ones and with community in our lives, the healthier and happier we are. That’s important every time of year, but doubly so at holiday time. So don’t be solitary at the holidays. If there isn’t an appealing gathering of family or friends to attend, find a community event or volunteer somewhere.
- Enjoy yourself.
All of this advice is useless if it leads you to do something you don’t want to do. The most important way to create happiness and well-being during and after your vacation is to make sure you spend at least some of your time off doing things that you truly enjoy. That can be challenging at holiday season which tends to come with family obligations, travel on crowded roadways or airplanes, and sometimes unpleasant winter weather.
I’m not necessarily suggesting you ditch your family commitments and traditions or refuse to visit your in-laws because you’d rather do something else. But make sure to set aside at least some of your time off to do something you know will make you really happy. You’ll bring that happy feeling back with you to work on January 2.