Vacation Time: How to Grow Professionally from Time AwayDo you use your vacation time?

Stop for a moment and think back when you last took a vacation.

Like a real vacation.

No work emails.

Zero quick calls with clients.

Not one, “let me just finish this one little thing.”

No work of any kind.

Before I joined the Spin Sucks team, my answer to those questions would have been sometime around college. 

Not only did I not take a vacation, I simply didn’t see the value.

Sure I’d take a couple of days off here and there, but a week?!?

The thought of a full week off made my head spin.

I mean, I felt absolutely indulgent when I took a full weekend off!

For that matter, a full day.

Does this sound like you?

Tales of Reformed Vacation Neglect

I’m coming to you from the other side of this tragic vacation neglect.

In fact, so far from the other side, while you read this I’m currently on vacation.

I like to make my points bold and actionable, so I took a vacation to help lead by example.

That’s how important you all are to me.

I understand the fear of vacation intimately.

And even now I know the benefits for my work (and life) of time away, I still feel guilty every time I request time off.

It’s not that I don’t like time-off. I do.

But my inner sense of professional responsibility makes me feel like a bad child for even thinking about vacation.

Like I’m doing something disrespectful and careless. I feel guilty about any additional work my time away will add to other’s plates.

I feel horrible I can’t be there to respond to every client’s need.

I’m a typical comms pro who wants to please everybody and respond to any need.

I tried to take only one day off for my wedding in November.

I’m getting married on a Saturday and I requested Friday off.

Gini laughed in my face.

So if you are feeling uncomfortable right now at the thought of stepping away completely, I feel ya.

The Fear of Vacation Time

The first time Gini Dietrich made me take a vacation was in conjunction with a competition.

I was sort of petrified.

We had just signed two new clients.

I was going to a conference with one of them immediately after my vacation.

I already felt behind (because I maintain the belief there are 36 hours in a day, when there are actually only 24).

How in the world could I take a week of vacation?

A part of me felt everything would crash down around me the moment I stepped away.

And then an even more frightened part of me worried it wouldn’t.

I’d come back and everyone would be like, “What? You were gone? Oh, we barely even noticed.”

And then I’d be replaced with an office dog or a break time air hockey machine (and we don’t even have an office).

Weakened by Gini’s stubbornness I begrudgingly accepted my vacation time fate.

Embrace Vacation Time as Career Development

When I came back from that first vacation, I felt renewed and rejuvenated.

I had emptied my bucket and was full of ideas, professional energy, and able to give more to the organization.

The ROI of my vacation was multifold on my career.

Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Brain break: Your brain gets a break and it thanks you for it. You need time away. That’s a psychological fact. Your brain needs off time, as much as your body does. If you’ve ever tried to push really, really hard day after day after day in the gym (or with your sport of choice), you’ll know, you reach a point that your body just says no. Your brain does the same thing.
  2. Delegation: You learn what you can really delegate. Without a doubt, when I came back from vacation, I realized there were tasks I was hanging on to, or being a helicopter manager about, that I really should have just let go a long time ago. I came back, after a week of someone else handling this task, and voila: Nothing has changed.
  3. Value: You realize where you are most valuable. Likewise, you see the areas where your absence is most experienced. This is also helpful to understand the value you provide and how you can maximize it.
  4. Efficiency: You see efficiencies you missed previously. Stepping out of your normal pattern helps you see where you were not as efficient as you could have been.
  5. Perspective: You view things from a new, fresh point-of-view. One that can only be achieved by stepping away.
  6. Priorities: You learn what things you were spending more time on then necessary, and are able to re-evaluate your priorities.

Prepare Ahead for Time Away

I’d guess approximately zero people currently reading this blog post have the type of job they can just step away from for a week without some sort of preparation.

Or at least do so without leaving your organization and/or clients in a big mess.

You need to prepare.

That might take on different forms and levels depending on your role and organization.

My goal when I go away is to cause as little additional stress as I can to the rest of our team or our clients.

So I prepare according.

This means:

  • Prepare clients in advance so we have time to review anything they need prior to my absence.
  • Have a plan for who they should contact for all of their needs.
  • Discuss any additional responsibilities team members need to take on or things they should be aware of.
  • Have a clear plan in place for any process you are normally a part of, so team members can respond accordingly.
  • Do any task in advance only you can do. Make sure other team members are aware it’s been completed and next steps.

For me, this type of preparation allows me to enjoy my vacation more because I’m not as stressed about clients needs I can’t respond to, or team members forced to carry a large additional load.

(I’m still normally slightly stressed about it, but I’m getting there.)

And there you have it.

Vacation time IS important and you need to take it.

Every time I come back from a vacation I’m better.

Our team works more efficiently, and I bring new perspective and energy into everything I do.

Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is chief marketing officer for Spin Sucks, an integrated marketing communications firm that provides strategic counsel and professional development for in-house and agency communications teams. She is a weekly contributor for their award-winning blog of the same name. Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

View all posts by Laura Petrolino