…because some thoughts are worth remembering
Five weeks of vacation is guaranteed for workers in Denmark. In some cases, an extra 6th week is awarded. Further, people tend to take them in a lump (e.g., taking the whole of July off is common in Denmark, the month of August for Parisians in France). In the U.S., where there is no law that guarantees any vacation days, typical employer gives two weeks. Through seniority and tenure, that number might be adjusted to three, but anything beyond that is exceptional. Because there are set vacation days you are expected to take (e.g., Christmas holidays and for summer to spend time with kids on a break), you end up taking a few days here and there, carefully rationing the days for kids’ piano recital or care for aging parents.
The concept of vacation becomes a whole different ball game.
Because you can’t even conceive of taking a two month road trip (unless you are willing to quit your job), you have to make do with shorter breaks and focus on changing the pace, being able to quickly switch gears from work to leisure. It’s important because taking time off actually helps your productivity at work. European countries, despite their fewer hours worked, boast high productivity levels.
The same can be said about the power of mental breaks during the day. If you can’t completely decompress by being on a two month road trip, you can at least take mini mental breaks within the work place.
What is a break? Because mental concentration is a workout for the brain, it needs a break. To purposely insert a period (however short it may be) of relaxation to refresh the mind in between intense concentration, can be more productive than working straight through. Yet it is tough to make it a habit. Taking break also looks like you are slacking off (when in fact you are tuning your mind for better performance).
To get around making it a habit, I have my laptop set to announce the time every hour on the hour.
For OS X: System Preferences -> Date & Time -> Clock -> Announce the Time -> On the hour
It reminds me I should change up my activity. It could be a simple stand up and walk over to a file cabinet to reorganize some documents I meant to do before, or do some neck stretching exercises. I take the opportunity to go freshen up my tea, go to the bathroom, or to loop back with a colleague in a separate office. If it’s a nice day, I can make some calls on my cell while taking a brisk walk around the office building.
For me, it functions like the Pomodoro technique.
It’s also had an unexpected benefit of reminding my guests or colleagues in a meeting with me what time it is, so they can wrap up the meeting without my nudging.
Photo: Marselisborg Yacht Harbor in Aarhus Denmark