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Deliberate rest: how to unplug and make the most of your vacation time

13 December 2022

In some parts of the world, the end of the calendar year also means summer holidays and vacation time. This is an opportunity to rest and recharge after another turbulent year. Research and statistics show that burnout is at a record high, and everyone I've spoken to is ready for this year to end and take in some downtime. However, many of us come back from leave or holidays feeling exhausted.


Learning how to rest and recharge is a skill, and we have to be deliberate about how we cultivate this skill just like any other skill we want to develop. Alex Pang writes about in his book Rest. Pang is the founder of Strategy and Rest, a Silicon Valley-based consulting company that helps companies design and implement four-day working weeks.

Pang states that we underplay the important of rest and "busyness is a badge of honour, even a sign of moral superiority. Rest, in contrast, is often treated as if it’s passive and pointless."

Recent research in neuroscience and psychology shows that rest allows us to recharge and stimulate our creativity, provides the mental space to cultivate new insights, and good rest is not idleness. Another study from Harvard also discovered that working during vacations can impact our intrinsic motivation (which is when we engage in activities that are interesting, enjoyable, and meaningful) rather than the desire for a reward or specific outcome. Therefore, working during our leisure time can create internal conflict between pursuing personal and professional goals, potentially leading people to enjoy their work less.


Pang also discovered in his research that the most restorative form of rest is active, not passive. This has been my experience with family skiing or adventure

vacations where we are outdoors, spending time with each other, unplugged from technology, immersed in a challenging activity that requires mindfulness and agility.


To ensure I am not tempted to check my emails or do some work, here are some tips to unplug and rest:


Set clear boundaries

Successful leaders and professionals have good work-life boundaries and when you're on vacation ensure your team knows when it’s acceptable or necessary to contact you (and agree on protocols) so that you can really switch off and unplug. Turn off notifications and badges for your email app on your phone so you don't see the number of emails or messages climbing.


Set clear processes with your team

Prepare, plan and delegate so the team and the business can function without you. Ensure your out of office is clear on who to contact in your absence and set processes or protocols in place for escalating urgent matters. If you're the person covering someone on leave, try your best to not contact them.


Practice deep play

No matter where you're heading on your vacation, try to incorporate and engage in activities that will challenge you physically or mentally such as rock climbing, painting, or skiing. According to Pang, whatever you choose, it should be mentally absorbing, provide you with some of the same psychological rewards as your best work.


Get out in nature

Practicing deliberate rest while spending time in nature has many benefits, both physiologically and psychologically including:

  • Increased Vitamin D, which is essential for our immune system.

  • Improved eye health by preventing Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), the term used to describe eye problems caused by staring at a screen close to your face for prolonged periods.

  • Improved sleep as research shows that early morning exposure to sunlight has been shown to help recalibrate these sleep cycles. A few consecutive days outside hiking will speed up the process.

  • Improved focus as getting outside and spending time in nature has been linked to improved attention spans, increased serotonin (the feel-good neurotransmitter) and shows increased activity in the parts of the brain responsible for empathy, emotional stability, and love. Whereas urban environments do the same for fear and anxiety.

Cultivating a practice of deliberate rest will allow you to build your resilience and enjoy a more creative and sustainable life professionally and personally. Research tells us that increasing resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure. We need to preserve and enhance the greatest asset we have, ourselves.


References:

Pang, A.S.-K. and Huffington, A.S. (2018) Rest: Why you get more done when you work less. 1st edn. London: Penguin Life.

Pang, A.S.-K. (2021) How to rest well: Psyche guides, Psyche. Psyche. Available at: https://psyche.co/guides/how-to-rest-well-and-enjoy-a-more-creative-sustainable-life (Accessed: December 12, 2022).

HBR Ideacast Podcast: Episode 831 How to Use All Your Vacation — And Really Unplug, 7 December 2021

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