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“Summertime and the living is easy…” Or it should be anyway.

When you finally get time off, how can you make the most of it? Are there actually “best practices” for optimal relaxation so you return to work recharged?
Posted on July 26, 2018

Brad Aeon, a researcher at Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business, is an expert in time management. He answered a few questions below but he is available for interviews to answer further questions – and provide colourful illustrations of his findings via

1) Can vacations make us more productive?

“When people return to work after a vacation, they tend to be more engaged, more energized and, as a result, more creative.”

  • Taking a break can reduce stress, improve our health, boost our energy levels and enhance our well-being.
  • When we go on vacation, we typically experience novel things—new cultures, foods and sensations. The novelty we experience while on vacation shakes up our routines and habitual ways of thinking.
  • The unfortunate reality is many people choose not to take vacation days. They either feel they have too much work to do to afford leisure time or they’re are afraid taking time off will make them look less committed to the job.

2) Should we manage our time while we are on vacation?

“Yes, but don’t overdo it. Loosely managing time during your time off gives you control over your vacation, which makes you feel like you’ve made the most of it.”

  • Strict scheduling while on vacation makes us feel like we have to do things. But we really don’t. The word “vacation” originally meant “freedom from duty.”
  • Strict scheduling also involves time pressure. If there’s one thing I learned from research on time, it’s that time pressure saps the fun out of everything.
  • On the other hand, unplanned vacations can be frazzling: people have to constantly think about what to do next, and the wide variety of options can be overwhelming.

Fortunately, there’s a sweet spot between strict scheduling and unplanned vacations that can make your vacation a lot more pleasurable: I call it “loose time management.”

  • All you have to do is make a short list of things you would like to do on a given day while remembering that you don’t have to do them.
  • The appeal of loose time management is that it serves as a frame of reference. It gives you a list of potential things to do on a given day, which allays the burden of constantly having to decide what to do next.

3) How can vacation time positively impact one’s career and workplace?

“As the adage goes, you never get your best ideas at work.”

  • Research clearly shows that taking breaks from work can make us healthier, happier and more energized.
  • People who work long hours and don’t take breaks, on the other hand, are less satisfied with their lives, get sick more often, develop chronic medical conditions, have poor relationships with their loved ones and, ironically, are not more productive than their holidaying counterparts.
  • There is some evidence that people who take vacations are more likely to get promotions and raises than people who don’t take time off.

There are many reasons why you get more things done after a vacation:

  • You have increased energy and creative potential.
  • You may well experience what researchers call the “fresh start effect”; a new beginning, an opportunity to make new resolutions or adopt new working methods.

The exposure to novelty—and not having to think about work—allows the brain to relax and adopt a new perspective.


4) How would you describe the ideal vacation in mental health terms?

“The ideal vacation should not involve work. Period. No e-mail checking, no report writing, no emergency handling. You have to achieve what researchers call psychological detachment from work.”

  • Tie up any loose ends before leaving work.
  • Research shows making a plan detailing how and when you will deal unfinished projects can significantly help you detach from work.
  • Make sure you don’t have to check your e-mail while you’re away. Set up an auto-reply message and make it clear that you won’t have internet access. Unless you’re a surgeon or head of state, there are no real emergencies, just self-imposed pressure.

*Sounds too radical? Daimler employees have incoming e-mails automatically deleted when they’re on vacation and they absolutely love it.

  • It’s better to take short, frequent vacations than one long break. Research shows that vacation length doesn’t really affect the strength of its benefits.
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