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  • Writer's pictureDr. Leatrice Brooks, LP

Vacation or Recovery? Evaluating and Maximizing Your Time Off Work

Vacation season is approaching and everyone is ready for time off. My question is, are you doing it right? While vacation is supposed to be about relaxation and enjoyment, too often, it is not for many high achievers. We have all been there. You arrive at your vacation destination and spend the first few days recovering from work. You catch up on sleep, can’t muster the energy to see sights, and just want to sit or lay down. Then, depending on the length of your trip, you might get in a couple of days of actual fun, only to go back to work. You only end up using your trip to return to your baseline level of exhaustion instead of energizing and recharging, which should be the goal.

When vacation is planned and executed at the last minute, we rush, cram, and stress until the moment we leave. Unfortunately, time off is frequently an afterthought and something we are forced to do because we have extended way beyond our capacity. Combined, these behaviors cause us to need recovery time before we can enjoy our break. Like everything else we do, vacationing well requires proactivity, intentionality, and planning – three skills you already have. Imagine how amazing your time off would be if you put forth a fraction of the effort you use at work towards yourself. Not doing so makes it challenging to be fully present on vacation. When we use leave to recover, we still think about work because we know that’s the reason for our exhaustion. Imagine being able to unplug as soon as you put the physical work down and take in the whole experience.

There are lots of recommendations I could make and little details to add. For brevity, I’ll highlight a few tasks you want to do at a minimum to maximize your trip. A great vacation is all about being present throughout the process, and it all starts before you leave.

Before Your Vacation

  • Identify travel dates.

Settle on vacation dates 2-3 months ahead. Every quarter, I like to look at least one to two quarters out for opportunities to take time off. It doesn’t have to be a full-out vacation; long weekends also count. When you think ahead, your brain and emotions begin to prepare for your downtime, which can be encouraging. Your behaviors will start to adjust accordingly.

  • Plan to stop.

Regularly evaluate goals and deadlines as you approach your scheduled time off. At least weekly in the preceding 30 days. Prioritize and make adjustments to maintain realistic expectations for what you can accomplish. This particular strategy helps me lean more into delegation, which is a bonus. Learn to be okay if self-imposed timelines don’t work out as initially planned. Remember that you will accomplish more from a rejuvenated state than from a depleted one.

  • Consider the possibilities.

Anticipating fun is exciting and energizing. Start thinking about what you want to do on vacation. Choose a mix of things that require tickets and reservations and things you can enjoy on a whim. You don’t want to over-plan your time, but you do want options. Throw in at least a couple of things you haven’t done before. Be adventurous or at least in discovery mode.

During Your Vacation

  • Trust your systems.

Allow your systems to work for you, i.e., out-of-office messages, assistants, and teams. The first time I went on vacation after getting an assistant, she reminded me ever so often to stay out of e-mail and sent me options for things to do and restaurants to try. My most senior team member volunteered to support the team and be the sole contact if something came up that needed my immediate attention – nothing did.

  • Go with the flow.

Refer to your list of potential activities and feel it out by the day. Allow room to do what feels good to you at the moment, based on energy, weather, and what you need. If you don’t feel up to an activity that requires a lot physically, take a scenic drive or riding tour, try a new restaurant or order room service, or have a spa or beach day. If you are up for an adventure, try a sports activity or amusement park, do some shopping, or take a walking tour.

  • Stay focused.

Many high achievers are committed to growth and development, and there’s only so much complete downtime you feel comfortable with. So on vacation, if you have to do something, dive into personal development and fiction books, journaling and other modes for personal (not professional) reflection, identifying and exploring self-care behaviors you can implement and repeat. This will stimulate your mind and meet your need to process and research while maintaining the focus on you. These are also good transition tasks. I like to do them on flights, layovers, and drives to make that time more enjoyable.

After Your Vacation

  • Reflect on your experience.

Identify what worked, what you would like to repeat, and what you would like to change the next time around. Allowing yourself to take in the positives reinforces the experience and gives you something to look forward to. Think about what else you want to do, or try and put it on a list for later.

  • Ramp up slowly.

Maintain your vacation energy by diving in at a reasonable pace. No need to go from 0 to 100. That will only increase your stress, shock your system, and put a damper on your return. Instead, give yourself a day or two to get your feet back on the ground. Continue the relaxed demeanor and bring it into everything you do. Channel the peace and calm, and guard that space as if your mental well-being depended on it – because it does.

  • Plan the next one.

One of the best times to start thinking about your next vacation or days off is right after you return. I go so far as to schedule my out-of-office message for the next time immediately, so I don’t forget. Knowing there is a next time provides a constant light at the sometimes seemingly never-ending work tunnel. It reminds you that you are a priority and ensures your need will be met.

Presence Leadership and Time Off

There used to be an expectation that employees and staff would be workhorses. We know that comes at a cost to mental and physical health and well-being, increases burnout, and decreases morale. We also know of people on our team who forfeit vacation days every year. Leaders set the tone, and in transformational presence leadership, we promote, check in on, and encourage our team members to show up for themselves through self-care. We want to stay proactive and guide our teams toward what they know they need. They need to see you do it and hear you say it out loud. Likely multiple times. Be the catalyst for changing and challenging the status quo and encouraging presence with your team and throughout your organization.

Call to Presence

Make the following commitments to yourself and map a plan to get results.

  • Plan to take care of yourself with time off.

  • Feel good about being present with yourself and life through self-care.

  • Set yourself up for a successful vacation and time off, and do it well.

Presence is a learned skill and the Presence Formula can help you get there. Download the free guide to learn this repeatable 4 step process to increase your presence. You'll receive new blog posts right in your inbox. Contact us for a personalized Presence experience.


Licensed Psychologist, Executive Coach, Speaker

Dr. Leatrice positions organizations to maximize productivity, master collaboration and teamwork,

and retain high achievers.

“Great Things Happen When You’re Present”


© 2022, Dr. Leatrice R. Brooks

phone: 269-389-9968


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