Are you feeling overworked these days? You’re not alone. A recent survey found that, since the pandemic, the U.S. has increased its average workday by about 40%, or three extra hours a day. This culture of working too much and too hard doesn’t just have consequences on your physical and mental health — it can actually hurt your business. It may seem counterintuitive, but taking time off regularly is one of the best things you can do to build a thriving business and successful career.
We’ve all been guilty of burning the candle at both ends from time to time. Maybe a lot of the time. But does the “always-on” mentality result in better business outcomes? Not necessarily. According to an analysis by Madison Business Review, countries with shorter workweeks are more productive, while those with longer workweeks are less productive. The researchers found a strong correlation between working fewer hours per week and higher nominal gross domestic product (GDP) per person, implying that less work may correlate with a better bottom line.
In another study, Stanford University found that productivity declines sharply after a 50-hour workweek, and work becomes essentially pointless after 55 hours. How about putting in 70 hours a week? It equates to the same output as working 55 hours. All that unproductive work is quite costly: It leads to stress and health problems, which lead to disengagement and poor performance, which lead to lost revenue and increased healthcare costs. Bottom line: It doesn’t pay off.
On the flip side, taking time off, whether that’s working shorter days or taking more frequent vacation time, has numerous benefits. It reduces stress, boosts creativity, increases job satisfaction, and improves work-life balance — all of which help you to be more effective at work. So why don’t more of us take the chance to rest and recharge?
Creating a company culture that encourages time off is the first step. But there are also things you can do to make your time out of the office a little easier and to ensure a stress-free transition when you return to work.
Set expectations. If you’re used to checking emails or taking work calls on vacation, it’s time to break that habit. Let your team know that you will be unavailable and unreachable, unless it’s a true emergency. Don’t feel comfortable being that direct? Add some humor to your out-of-office reply. Here are some examples to inspire you.
Prioritize and delegate. Make a list of crucial tasks to complete before you go. If it’s not urgent, don’t worry about it; it’ll be there when you get back. And if you’re constantly inundated with new requests, know when to say no, or ask a colleague or assistant if they can handle it while you’re away.
Communicate to clients. Just as you set expectations with your team, your clients shouldn’t be caught off guard if they can’t reach you for a few days. Let them know you’ll be gone, and if possible, appoint a teammate to handle client inquiries while you’re out.
Filter unimportant emails. A mountain of emails clogging your inbox is a surefire way to undo all that de-stressing you did during your downtime. There are a couple of ways to avoid this:
Option 1: Create filters to archive or delete unwanted emails (e.g., marketing emails, newsletters) so you never see them. Set up another filter to keep emails from priority senders (e.g., your boss, clients), so you can address only the most important messages when you return.
Option 2: Create an email rule that deletes every email you receive while you’re away. In your out-of-office reply, clearly state that the sender’s email has been deleted since you’re on vacation and not checking emails. If they want you to see their message, they can reach out again when you return, or email someone else if it’s urgent.
Create a to-do list for when you return. Shifting back into work mode after being away for a while can be challenging. Which items need your attention first? To make the transition easier, create a priority list before you go, so you’ll have a cheat sheet to get you back on track quickly.
Make a habit of taking time off. Perhaps many of us are afraid to step away from work simply because we don’t do it enough. But the more we do it, the easier it becomes. Instead of scheduling long but infrequent vacations, make it a regular practice to get away, such as one long weekend a month. More frequent breaks help facilitate a better work-life balance, allowing you to avoid excessive burnout.
While the pandemic may have put a damper on our traditional vacation plans, it’s still important to take time off work, even if it’s a staycation. And with the holidays upon us, what better time to take advantage of that opportunity? So go ahead and take that break: You’ve earned it.
 NordVPN Teams, March 2020.
 Madison Business Review, September 2020.
 Stanford University, April 2014.
 Harvard Business School, January 2015.
 Gallup, May 2018.
 U.S. Travel Association, Oxford Economics, Ipsos, August 2019.
 American Psychological Association, June 2018.