No Time for Vacation? Recharge Without PTO

You need a break. We all do. We can’t be in “go, go, go” mode 24/7. Learning to slow down and take a break is critical for long-term success and wellness. You have personal time off (PTO), and you should use it. Of course, there are times we need to recharge that just aren’t conducive to taking a few complete days or a week out of the office. 

Whether it’s your family’s personal schedule making vacation a no-go at the moment or something happening on the job that makes it difficult to step away, making space to recharge isn’t dependent on adding PTO to your calendar. (Although, let’s reiterate, you have vacation days and you should be using them at some point during the year!) 

Take the Lunch Hour

Let’s be clear. You are not more productive sitting at your desk working through lunch. Adding more hours to your work day is not the same as adding productivity to your day. Jennifer Deal, Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership and Affiliated Research Scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations at University of Southern California (USC) has been quoted as saying, "Taking time away for a lunch break can help to reduce stress, increase engagement, and restore energy levels, making employees feel more effective and productive back at the office."

Her comments echo the findings of a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign study. That study found that even brief breaks from a task can help improve your ability to focus on that task going forward. In other words, taking a break can make you more productive. So yes, get up and leave your desk for lunch. Take a walk. Eat your meal somewhere other than where you work. Just disconnect and recharge for a spell. It matters. 

Get a Hobby

You work. You raise a family. Maybe you take some classes. You volunteer. You enjoy it all, sure. (And maybe sometimes you enjoy it more than other times.) It’s all good, but it’s also all about responsibility and deadlines and maybe some stress added in for good measure. 

Set aside some time on a regular basis to do something that’s purely about your enjoyment. Make music. Paint. Garden. Hike. Take photos. Join a rec league and play a team sport. Whatever it is, take time for you to do something for the pure pleasure of doing it. 

Connect With Friends

Coordinate your lunch breaks or meet up for coffee one morning every other week before the rest of your household is even aware the sun has risen and a new day has begun. This is time to be yourself – not you the good employee or you the mom or you the partner or you the boss. Just you. Don’t look at the phone or check the time. Just relish the opportunity to catch up and enjoy your pal’s company.

Take a Hike (Or a Walk or a Run or a Ride…)

When we’re feeling busy and overwhelmed, carving out time for exercise may seem like one of those things we can forgo to make space for all the rest of the stuff on our to-do list. Don’t do it. Find a fitness routine you enjoy and make time for it on a regular basis. Working out isn’t just about your physical health. There are benefits to your mental health as well. 

Take the Easy Way

Your to-do list has a healthy variety of tasks. Some of them require a lot more mental lifting than others. Take a break from the big stuff and focus on a few little, easy to accomplish tasks. The break will do you good and the mental lift you get from checking items off a list will help too. Ride that wave of accomplishment into making progress on those bigger tasks. The momentum will carry over.

Be Realistic

You’ll see a lot of recommendations about what you should be doing with the spare moments you have to optimize your time away from home and office-related work. Avoid electronics. Meditate. Make the space meaningful. There’s merit to some of this advice, sure, but don’t get caught up in the “must do” of it all. 

Focusing too much on the “right” way to relax can make our downtime more stressful than restful. How you fill your time away from the to-do list is up to you. If you want to spend the minutes you wait for your coffee to brew trying to solve today’s Wordle puzzle, go for it. If you want to fill your free evening trying to catch up on your Netflix watch list, enjoy it. The important thing is that you’re taking time off. What you do with it is up to you.