According to a recent survey, 61 percent of Americans expect to be doing at least some work while on vacation. This reality is why so many of us approach vacation with mixed emotions. You’re excited about the quality time with your family and hopeful that this will be the year you’re able to truly unplug. But there’s also a dull sense of dread as you stress about how you’ll ever get everything done beforehand. You’d love to be part of the minority of people who just cut all ties with work for the week, but you know that just isn’t a reality. Or is it?
Brian Moran says it absolutely is, and not only that, it’s essential.
“Successful people work with great focus and intention, and they play the same way,” says Moran, coauthor along with Michael Lennington of the New York Times bestseller The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks Than Others Do in 12 Months (Wiley, 2013). “When they’re working they’re really working, and when they’re vacationing they’re really vacationing. Rest and rejuvenation are the other side of the success coin.
“You must be purposeful about how you spend the time leading up to your vacation,” he advises. “The reason people end up working from their hotel room isn’t that they just have so much to do that they can never take a break. It’s that they aren’t working with intention—and thus, they aren’t executing effectively.”
Moran offers some essential tips for what you can do right now to make sure your vacation is truly a time for rest and relaxation.
Picture the perfect vacation. Hours on the beach with your kids, building sand castles and riding waves. Romantic evenings out with your spouse. A little uninterrupted reading time by the pool. These are the makings of a great vacation, and they should serve as the vision that will drive you through the hard work you’ll have to get done before you hit the beach.
“Vision is the starting point of all high performance,” says Moran. “It is the first place where you engage your thinking about what is possible for you. The more personally compelling your vision is, the more likely it is that you will act upon it. It is your personal vision that creates an emotional connection to the daily actions that need to take place in your business. Once you understand the link between your vision of the perfect vacation and your work, you can define exactly what you need to do to make that great vacation happen.”
Resign yourself to being uncomfortable now so you can be comfortable later. Without a compelling reason to choose otherwise, most people will take comfortable actions over uncomfortable ones. This is just human nature. Problem is, the uncomfortable tasks you avoided prior to your vacation are precisely the ones that will blow up or get out of control while you’re trying to enjoy some time on the beach.
“Important actions are often the uncomfortable ones,” says Moran. “In our experience, the number-one thing you will have to sacrifice to be great, to achieve what you are capable of, and to execute your plans is your comfort. So, if your goal is to have a carefree vacation, commit to sacrificing your short-term comfort so that you can reach it. Take care of any tasks you’ve been avoiding now so that they can’t ruin your vacation and so that they aren’t on your mind when you’re trying to have a good time.”
Know what to do when you’re not doing the things you know you need to do. Of course, upping the work ante prior to going on vacation won’t be easy. There will be times when your level of execution is less than exceptional, and it’s very likely you won’t be able to ignore the nagging, guilty feeling that drop in execution brings on. But the good news is you can use that feeling—what the authors call productive tension—to get yourself back on track.
“Productive tension is the uncomfortable feeling you get when you’re not doing the things you know you need to do,” says Moran. “Our natural inclination when confronted with discomfort is to resolve it. Sometimes this leads people to simply bail on their plans. In your case, it might mean resolving that you simply can’t get everything done before your vacation that you need to get done. So you throw in the towel and accept that you’ll have to make your vacation a working vacation.
“But productive tension can also be used as a catalyst for change. Instead of responding to the discomfort by bailing, use the tension as an impetus to move forward. When you eliminate bailing out as an option, then the discomfort of productive tension will eventually compel you to take action on your tactics. If turning back is not an option, then the only way to resolve the discomfort is to move forward by executing your plan.”
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Make the most of performance time and down time. As you work toward your vacation, it will be very important that you not respond to the demands of the day reactively. In other words, you can’t satisfy the various demands of the day as they are presented, spending whatever time is needed to respond without giving any thought to the relative value of the activity. You have to use your time wisely.
Keep control of your day through time-blocking. Basically, you block your day into three kinds of blocks—strategic blocks, buffer blocks and breakout blocks. A strategic block is uninterrupted time that is scheduled into each week. During this block, you accept no phone calls, no faxes, no emails, no visitors, no anything. Buffer blocks are designed to deal with all of the unplanned and low-value activities—like most email and voicemail—that arise throughout a typical day, while breakout blocks provide free time for you to use to rest and rejuvenate.
“Breakout blocks bring up an important point,” notes Moran. “Even in the frantic rush leading up to a vacation, you should allow yourself some down time. Always working longer and harder kills your energy and enthusiasm. Even before your vacation you need to schedule time to refresh and reinvigorate, so you can continue to engage with more focus and energy.”
Isolate yourself from modern-day distractions. In our modern world, technology can be a major distraction. When you’re focused on executing your prevacation plan, don’t let smartphones, social media and the Internet distract you from higher-value activities.
“Some spontaneity is healthy, but if you are not purposeful with your time, you’ll get thrown off course,” Moran explains. “Allow yourself to get distracted by emails, social media or the latest viral video while you’re working your prevacation plan, and before you know it, you’ll be on your vacation, stuck in your hotel room working on the project you didn’t finish while your family is playing on the beach. Learn to isolate yourself from distractions when there is important work to be done.”
Make a keystone commitment when you start your vacation. As Moran and Lennington explain, many of their clients set a 12- week goal in a certain area—say, getting fit. Then they build a 12 week plan around it with a handful of tactics like “do 20 minutes of cardio three times a week,” “train with weights three times a week” and so forth. But the other option is to again set a 12-week goal but, rather than building a tactical plan, identify a keystone or core action and commit to completing it every day for the next 12 weeks. It’s this second option that can help you make the most of your vacation.
“Your keystone commitment might be making breakfast for your family every morning—something you don’t get to do during a normal work week,” suggests Moran. “Or you might commit to taking a walk on the beach every day with your spouse. Or to going on a one-on-one adventure with each of your kids before the week is up.
“Setting a keystone commitment helps you avoid wasting your time on meaningless activities—like sleeping too late every day,” he adds. “Remember, your pre-vacation plan was all about spending your time with great intent and purpose so that you’d be able to have a great vacation. Why should you stop being more purposeful with your time once you’re actually on vacation? Think about the difference these relatively simple commitments can make to you and your family!”