7 MINUTE READ | September 5, 2019
Why You Should Take Your Vacation: My Experience Going Off the Grid
Can you keep a secret? I don’t like working on PTO.
As an agency executive, I realized a long time ago that PTO is a catch-22 for most people in this country. Despite the research clearly telling us that vacations are both personally and economically beneficial, we continue to de-prioritize and sometimes demonize self-care in the form of vacation.
But what if science has proven that we see a 50% spike in creativity given PTO was spent in a planned yet unusual way? The author, Kyung Hee Kim, of The Creativity Challenge, researched and found just that. And since we have supportive data to prove out the benefits both physically and professionally, why does our current work culture incite such bad PTO behavior?
Recent studies have shown a 4+ day decline in annual vacation days taken since 1996. While 84% of U.S. executives have canceled or rescheduled vacations in order to work.
This seems like a lot of needed rest for some very bright minds.
According to an HBR study in 2016, “we found that if you plan ahead, create social connections on the trip, go far from your work, and feel safe, 94% of vacations have a good ROI in terms of your energy and outlook upon returning to work.”
For us headstrong folks that need more data, HBR also found that 55% of Americans left vacation unused. If we are concerned over productivity or job security, then you may want to switch gears. Get this, people who took more than ten vacation days had a 65.4% chance of receiving a raise or bonus versus 34.6% for people who didn’t. Uh, what.
There is also a macro-economic effect on you not taking time off. Our unused vacation days cost the U.S. economy over $224B dollars per year. If you never make it to the beach then there is no one to buy that margarita.
Don’t worry, I didn’t take vacation the right way either but that all changed in June.
After 15 years of complacency and unused/canceled vacations, I signed on for a 3-day fly-fishing float trip to the Deschutes River in Oregon. Fully off the grid. Like, no connectivity. A friend of mine had recently retired and had been going on this trip for the better half of this decade. His commitment to this trip insinuated a number of things but mainly that it was something special.
Despite the trip outlook, my brain took over and I was overcome with booking remorse and what should be referred to as mind rot.
What was I going to do about the new service line that I just launched? Will George (my direct manager / CEO) judge my commitment to the company? What if we get a next steps call from the CMO we have been pitching? Will Britt (my spouse) be okay with our boys who are both under 2.5 years old? Does this put too much stress on her considering that potential work week? Is it selfish for me to take this time knowing how hard it is for her and I to get away together? What happens if one of our boys gets really sick?
Our guide rowed unrushed with the delicate current while the drift boat snuck down the right side of the river. This particular stretch of river is known for some of the best fly fishing in the United States, if not the world, and I was anxious. The conversation was spontaneous although rooted in our shared environment. There was a wonderful pine scent preceding an aroma of sun-baked earth which overwhelmed my nose. Each bend of the river was a different painting with dramatic vistas, colorful basalt outcroppings, volcanic remnants, and dynamic canyon walls.
Wild horses peppered the hills of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation while countless osprey sat in the warm sun eyeing the same area for the trout hidden below a sleepy tree limb. A turn in the river meant a new story for the group or a memorable biological note about a particular spoon formation loaded with trout. The fish were rising, our fly lines wet, and the fishing did not disappoint. Catch and release allow for bigger and more fish which put us on 20+ p/p each day.
Within 24 hours of letting the river take over, the rust had fallen away and everything was simplified. Our campsite was scouted and set up early each day so that when the fish stopped biting after dusk, we would float until the flickering of lanterns gave our tired arms hope. The camp was simple yet every aspect of it was familiar. Stories percolated from fisherman to fisherman and went quiet when there wasn’t anything more to say. Wine glasses were raised in a toast to each special day and a bond was created amongst a group of strangers. We ended each night like the day had begun. Quietly staring at the river and the endless sea of unobstructed light emitting from the millions of stars.
I found the environment to be extraordinary and it demanded nothing more of me than attention.
We replayed this for three days.
I only knew one of the six travelers
Less than 20 people crossed our path in three days
Oregon itself wasn’t new to my travel but fishing it was
The last time I remember not having a phone or internet was in 1998
Every day for the past six years, my wife and I have either talked or texted
There was an unspoken rule to limit work or professional conversation
A 24/7 unnaturally-natural environment — uninterrupted beauty for days at a time
A light-hearted, low-ego, diverse, and even-tempered group of travel partners
We were given autonomy but there was limited choice
There was no way to escape the lack of connectivity and routine which amplified my more creative sensitivities. The concern around daily deliverables dissipated and was replaced by a laundry list of strategic and long-term ideas for the greater business. My family remained top of mind, however, the environment allowed me to dream big for us and for the business. The lack of connection allowed me to restore mental capacity by enabling me to refocus on the more important things upon my return.
Self-awareness and personal growth
Multiplied both creative thinking and entrepreneurial ideas
A change in the way I was fathering and loving my boys
Presence with my wife and perspective on where I could better speak into her
New leadership perspective and patience
Enhanced the vision for areas of the company
Complete renewal and re-prioritization of work-related projects
NEW approach and strategy to focus service line
Renewal and refocus of my spirituality and faith
From this, a clear learning was that our environmental influence can stifle aspiration if we don’t find a way to disrupt it from time-to-time.
Please, use your PTO. All of it. Everyone benefits. And to get you started, here are some things to keep in mind.
An Off-the-Grid Checklist
Get off-the-grid every year for 3+ days
Find a low-stress and atypical environment
Keep conversations light and aspirational
Remove or reduce job talk
Encourage people to do PTO differently
Cut connectivity or make it difficult to access
Interact with a new and diverse group of people
Eliminate too much choice but keep the itinerary flexible
Spend time planning ahead of time with family and work
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Thank you Gordon L. for adding me to the Deschutes mix.
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