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How to Leverage Your Vacation Time to Boost Productivity


Simon Vreeswijk

Director of Marketing - 08 Sep, 2023


Vacations are not just nice to have - they’re essential. Vacations are an important escape from the daily grind and are known to support productivity in several ways. The goal is to return to the workplace refreshed, re-energized, and ready to make an even bigger impact.

Taking time off to relax and recharge, as well as to experience new places and people, can have a profound impact on mental and physical well-being. Anything that you can do to support overall wellness is going to naturally enhance your work performance. According to the Harvard Business Review, statistically, taking more vacation results in greater success in business as well as lower stress and more happiness at work and home.

So how is it that taking a vacation can actually boost your productivity? In this post, we are diving into ten specific ways that you can use vacation time to increase overall work performance.

The Data-Backed Case for Time Off

Unfortunately, American vacation time is decreasing. Despite the great reasons for taking a vacation - and the ways that doing so can actually increase an employees’ output - we are taking less vacation time than we used to. According to the Harvard Business Review research mentioned above, Americans used to average just over 20 days off per year. Now that number has dwindled to approximately 16 days. In fact, over the past 15 years, Americans have lost nearly a week of vacation time. So, does that decrease in vacation time translate to increased productivity and more success? Actually, no.

Studies show that when you plan ahead, create social connections on the trip, go far from your workplace, and feel safe, 94% of vacations have a good ROI in terms of your energy and outlook upon returning to work. There is simply no good reason to skip your vacation time. When people give up their vacation time, they are essentially volunteering hundreds of millions of free work days for their employers- research shows that number equates to $61.4 billion in forfeited benefits! Would you volunteer to have part of your salary deducted from your paycheck? That’s basically what happens when you leave PTO days on the table.

Are you one of those people that always feel too busy to take time off? Things are just too crazy at work, or there’s no one who can take over while you’re gone? Many people forgo vacation time out of a misplaced sense of loyalty for their workplace, but consider the following:

Researcher Mark Rosekind of Alertness Solutions found that the respite effect of a vacation can increase performance by 80%. Reaction times of returning vacationers increased 40% in his study. Respite research has proved that some very important things happen on a vacation that help to rejuvenate both minds and bodies. Vacations have been shown to cure burnout by regathering crashed emotional resources, like a sense of social support and mastery. Most companies would jump at the chance to reduce burnout and overall stress on their employees. Many progressive organizations are adding more vacation time to their employee packages and some are even offering a financial incentive in the form of a vacation stipend. High-quality employers actually want their staff to be healthy and happy - not least of all because it actually helps with the bottom line.

Related Post: Overcoming Burnout and the Expectations of the 'Ideal Worker'


Key Considerations for Vacations that Boost Productivity

Hopefully, you’re convinced of the merits of taking vacation. Not all vacations are created equal, though. Simply telling your boss you’re taking a few days off and then staying home won’t have the same effects as a trip that you planned and are excited about. In order for your vacation to truly provide the rest and relaxation required for increased productivity, a few conditions need to be met.

  • Planning ahead - Trips should be planned at least a month in advance. One of the key indicators of ROI in terms of energy and outlook is lower stress around planning the vacation. The amount of stress caused by not planning ahead can chip away at the positive benefits offered by time off work.
  • Interact with locals or take friends - One of the biggest advantages of vacation time is the ability to socialize. It’s good for people to interact with friends and family, and that can be hard during busy work seasons. Planning to go on a trip with a loved one is a good way to guarantee those connections. Furthermore, immersing yourself in local culture is also important. When you travel, take time to enjoy the food, experience the language, and chat with locals. Learning new things and embracing new scenarios delivers a stronger ROI on your vacation time than staying to yourself.
  • Get further from work - “Stay-cations” became popular during Covid, and for good reason. It makes sense to stick close to home and enjoy some simple down-time when you can’t travel. That being said, being in the same environment as your workplace - especially if you tend to be stressed out there - isn’t conducive to full relaxation and resetting. What can you do to really get away and get into a totally new atmosphere? Of course, your vacation specifics are going to vary based on factors like your budget, but most research shows that you’ll be happier returning from a vacation that was farther away from your workplace.
  • Allow enough time - Research shows that the most optimal time to be on vacation is eight days. Unfortunately, most people take an average of 4 days. Experts say that’s not really enough time to reap the benefits of planning for and settling into a vacation. Researchers noted that eight days allows a vacationer to feel an increase of happiness over the first few days of the trip, with satisfaction peaking on the eighth day. This amount of time also allows people to properly unpack, get their bearings, and settle into a new sleep schedule. Scheduling vacation time for shorter amounts of time can actually just increase your tiredness and stress.
  • Note financial considerations - Another factor that will impact your vacation energy ROI is financial flexibility. There are big differences between paid time off and unpaid time off. If you really need some time off, you might be willing to take days unpaid. For example, if you don’t have a lot of PTO, you may consider taking a week without pay. Just be aware that paid PTO tends to be more beneficial than unpaid time off. Similarly, if you’re stressed about paying for your vacation, your potential benefits are going to diminish. For example, if you’ve been stressed out at work and plan a fun vacation but have to put everything on a credit card, you may be worried about paying it off in the future - simply trading one stressor for another. Take careful stock of your own PTO and financial situation when considering vacation options.

When planned correctly, a vacation of eight or more days will be well-worth the time off. Travellers are likely to discover that they’re sleeping better, feeling less stress, and experiencing an overall feeling of wellbeing long after they return home.

Ten Ways to Increase Productivity Around Vacation Time

Since the whole point of vacation is to not be at work, how can taking time off make anyone more productive? We’ve done a lot of research on the topic of productivity and have come up with this list of tips for how to use your vacation time to boost productivity.

  1. Step one: take vacation - There are countless studies showing that taking vacation is good for output. Simply put, humans are more productive when rested and most modern companies have figured that out. Here’s a case study of a company who added a week of vacation time and fixed retention problems while increasing sales by 15%. So, the first step is getting past the belief that refusing vacation is somehow proving your loyalty or making you a super-employee. Vacation is not only an important part of your compensation, but it’s actually beneficial for you mentally and physically. So, stop feeling guilty or “too busy” and start planning your dream trip. We can almost guarantee you’ll come back better rested and a better performer.
  2. Prioritize rest and recovery - One of the primary benefits of vacation is the opportunity to relax and recover from work-related stress. By allowing yourself to unwind and detach from work responsibilities, you can recharge your mental and physical energy, enabling you to return to work feeling refreshed, focused, and motivated. That means while you’re on vacation, unplug from your digital platforms and take those naps! When you feel sleepy, rest. Don’t pack your vacation so full of activities that you don’t have down-time, or you’re likely to come back more tired than when you left.
  3. Reflect on your goals - During your time off, take some time to consider your long-term career and personal goals. Use this period of relaxation to gain clarity, reassess your priorities, and set realistic targets for the upcoming months. A clear vision will help you approach work with renewed determination and a sense of purpose. You may want to bring along a self-improvement book that you’ve been meaning to read, and a notebook for making notes. Choose a few relevant podcasts that you can listen to during your travel time. Use the time to think about what you really want out of your career once you’re back to real life.
  4. Ensure a smooth transition - Part of how you’ll feel after vacation comes down to what you do before it. To guarantee a seamless transition back to work, it's crucial to plan ahead before your vacation. Prioritize essential tasks, delegate as much as possible, and inform colleagues about your time away. By having a clear plan in place, you can minimize stress and avoid feeling overwhelmed upon your return. This will also help you to actually leave work at work, and not feel compelled to check in all the time while you’re on vacation. If you can spend some energy and time properly planning at work before you go, you can spend more time on your vacation actually relaxing.
  5. Ease back in - Returning to work after a vacation can be overwhelming, so it's important to move slowly back into your routine. Begin by tackling smaller tasks and catching up on emails, gradually progressing to more significant projects. This approach will help you regain momentum without feeling burnt out. Many people are tempted to log into email the minute their plane touches down, but you should carefully consider whether catching up before you’re technically back on the clock will add to or diminish your stress level.
  6. Try to stay healthy - Vacations often provide an opportunity to indulge in delicious food and relaxation, but it's important to maintain a healthy lifestyle even after your break. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient sleep will boost your energy levels, sharpen your focus, and enhance your overall productivity. When you’re on vacation, try not to overdo it with food or alcohol. Try to get enough sleep even if you’re busy. On your last day of vacation, consider loading up on fresh juices and lots of leafy foods as a small sort of detox, and getting to bed early. Remember that you want to leave vacation and go back into work feeling refreshed and ready to go.
  7. Organize your workspace - Many people feel strongly about cleaning their home before they leave on vacation. That’s because it’s a great feeling to walk into a clean house and allows you to spend time on more important things than tidying up once you get back. The same is true of work. On the day before you head out, before diving into your tasks, take the time to organize and declutter your workspace. Make a list of what needs to be done in the days that you return, and leave that plus any necessary files, paperwork, etc. together where you can find them. A clean and well-organized environment can have a positive impact on your mindset, allowing you to stay focused and minimize distractions. When you get back from vacation, you can immediately dig into your list of priorities and make sure you have everything you need without starting from scratch.
  8. Use advance planning - As mentioned above, getting more organized ahead of your vacation will allow you to be more productive after. To stay on track and maintain productivity, develop a daily or weekly plan. Prioritize tasks, set realistic deadlines, and break down larger projects into smaller, more manageable steps. Have all of these plans laid out in an organized fashion and share them with anyone who will be supporting your projects in your absence. Most people have an increase in energy right before they go on vacation - they’re excited after all - so the day prior to your departure is the perfect time to dig into these details and create thoughtful plans. This approach will help you stay organized and ensure that no important tasks slip through the cracks, plus give you a leg up on work when you return.
  9. Try more effective time management techniques -  Upon your return from vacation, it’s the perfect time to begin with a clean slate. If you’ve been interested in exploring different time management techniques (such as the Pomodoro Technique or time blocking) to enhance your productivity, your first day back is a great time to try. You’ll have a refreshed mindset and all of the prep work you did before you left. Everything will be ready for you to implement the time management method you’re interested in. These methods can help you maintain focus, prevent burnout, and maximize your efficiency throughout the day.
  10. Don’t multitask on vacation - Contrary to popular belief, multitasking can actually hinder productivity. Instead, focus on one task at a time, dedicating your full attention and energy to it. By doing so, you will complete tasks more efficiently and produce higher-quality work. Too many people spend time on their vacation trying to check in at work. This prevents a full break from work triggers and can really diminish the benefits of taking vacation in the first place.

Related Article: The Price We Pay For Multitasking


Using vacation time to boost productivity comes down to more than just getting rest and relaxation - although that is a key benefit. Much of what you do before going on vacation and when you return from vacation will have a bigger impact on your overall effectiveness. By properly planning in advance of your vacation, and then using processes to improve your workflows during and following your time off, you’ll return more productive than ever. We suggest prioritizing rest, engaging in healthy habits, and effectively planning and delegating your work load. When you focus on setting realistic goals and maintaining a healthy work-life balance, you can truly harness the benefits of your time off and see a significant boost in productivity. Looking for other tips on improving productivity? Make sure to follow our blog.