How to find time to relax in the no-vacation nation

The United States has gotten the unfortunate reputation for being the no vacation nation. In fact, according to a 2011 study by Expedia, Americans only get 14 vacation days compared to the international average of 24 days. Worse, we only use 12 of the days we do get, which means we’re one of the most vacation deprived countries, with only Japan and South Korea faring worse. For many the reason to skip vacation is financial, but for a whopping 43%, the reasons is driven more by a fear of how vacations might be perceived or an inability to plan for them.

Pretty depressing.

But it actually becomes alarming when you consider the fact that you are putting your health on the line by skipping them. Research has found that after just three days of vacation, subjects had less physical complaints, slept better and were in an overall better mood than before the vacation. These effects were still present up to five weeks later.

Recognizing that it may be too late to plan for a big vacation, I’ve gone on a search for simple things you can do to give yourself the benefits of taking a break without having to go anywhere or miss any days of work. The key is to organize yourself now so that you actually take these steps and reap real psychological and physical benefits.

1. Make the most of weekends.

View weekends as an opportunity to get in a mini-vacation each week. Before summer truly sets in, make plans to do new things, make small day trips to explore new spots, and otherwise take a mental break.

2. Take a yoga class midweek.

Sometimes just getting out of your regular routine is very therapeutic. It also is an excellent way to prove to yourself that you can make the time to take care of yourself. After all, we’ll bet that hour you took didn’t cut into your productivity at all – if anything, it enhanced it.

3. Unplug at 6pm.

Be honest, what percentage of work emails that you get at night really require an immediate response? By staying plugged in you are at higher risk for the burnout and constantly elevated stress levels that come with being always on. In a nod to the fact that mere mortals have a difficult time switching this off, some companies are even helping their employees take a real break each evening. Volkswagon is actually stopping the email server to its BlackBerry-using employees a half hour after their shift ends, and then turning it back on 30 minutes before work begins the next day, according to the New York Times. {image & fascinating blog post on what it was like to unplug after 6pm for two weeks via: 99% Behance Network}

4. Bookend a weekend when you can.

You don’t have to take ten consecutive days to get the stress-relieving benefits of a vacation. Research shows benefits after only three days off. Look at your schedule for the next ten to twelve weeks of summer and identify one Friday or Monday that you could take off without too much difficulty. Then notify your bosses that you’re going to take it off within the next week. {image via: French by Design}

5. Plan each week on Sunday evenings.

It’s amazing how getting into the habit of organizing yourself for the week ahead will help you find additional hours in the week. Use a form like our free to-do list capture printable to list all the things on your to-do list for the week ahead. Then take the extra step to actually schedule your priorities. When you actually block out the time in your calendar to do the things on your lists, you can plan ahead to minimize distractions like email so you can truly focus on the task at hand (which we estimate cost the average person three hours of productivity a day). Use the found time to relax (see point #2 above).

6. Go to bed 15-30 minutes earlier every weeknight.

Most humans need at least seven hours of sleep a night. Research shows that when you get less than that, it takes a significant toll on your reaction speed, short-term and long-term memory, ability to focus, decision-making capacity, math processing, cognitive speed, and spatial orientation all start to suffer. This summer, turn off the lights 15-30 minutes earlier than you would normally and reap the benefits. {image of cozy bed pillows via: Etsy}

Are you a chronic vacation-skipper? Do you take all of your days off? If not, why not? Do you agree that vacations impact productivity?