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Of course you need a vacation

Preston Bottger
Preston Bottger is Professor of Leadership and General Management at IMD. He teaches in the Orchestrating Winning Performance (OWP) program and the Program for Executive Development (PED).

Take one every day, every week, every year.
What we generally see is that few people are able to achieve a perfect work-life balance. Indeed, it's difficult to do, especially in demanding jobs that entail high levels of responsibility. If you're skillful, you might be able to develop a "workable-mix-over-the-many-decades," but for those of you early in your careers, a good short-term balance is rarely possible.

The truth of the matter is that intense physical, intellectual and emotional demands imposed by high-level work simply do not permit an easy cycle between professional tasks and personal relaxation. In juggling work relationships and relationships outside of work each can suffer from obligations imposed by the other. A little vacation time - however you can get it - might be just what you need to rejuvenate, and re-set priorities and commitments.

Observing those who have great responsibility for others' lives and others' money, we see many instances of burnout. Burnout, a buzz word for work-induced fatigue and depression, usually includes reduced attention span, irritability and the increasingly strange choices of priorities. If a vacation could avoid all of this, wouldn't it be worth taking?

Yet, you may say, we see other professionals in highly responsible positions who show few signs of tiredness, they never get upset (at least not in public), do not lose focus and do not burnout.

So, what's the difference between those who burnout and those who don't?
For starters, people who tend not to burnout have made effective deals professionally. They negotiate terms with their employer so that the work they do, the compensation they receive and the personally thrilling opportunities they get, all add up to a very acceptable, actually nurturing, deal.

They also make a good deal with their "self," especially, for example, the self that will awaken on their 70th birthday. They take the necessary timeout, as the days and decades roll by, to keep themselves up-to-date with whom they have become. And they experiment with personally distinctive solutions to the question of how best to protect and enhance their own well-being. This greatly improves the chance that, on that fateful future birthday morning, their honest appraisal of their life will be: "This is OK!" And even, "This is great." Such people have developed their own formula for life success - but it's a formula that costs time.

What kind of time, when?
A generic success formula does exist. The biographies of happy, energetic, and useful 70 year-olds - those who made it successfully without a hint of burnout - show that these folks have worked out the essential principles of their own best rhythms of "stretch and recovery," and that they apply these religiously.

So, what are your essential principles of self-nurturing?

Only you (perhaps with the help of the right kind of doctor) can say. Whatever your personal formula, this is critical: you must give your mind a vacation - every day (minimum ten minutes morning and evening), every week (minimum 60 minutes of quiet time for reflection) and every year (minimum two weeks of complete disconnect from work stimuli).

A simple vacation to ensure that you have time off from responsibilities, are up to date, and clear in your thoughts is indispensable. Employers beware, a mind that is not deliberately given a rest, will take it when least expected.

(For counterpoint, read Professor Narasimhan's 3 myths about vacation and productivity)

By Preston Bottger

 |  August 20, 2010; 10:27 AM ET |  Category:  Business Leadership , Culture Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Managing the Albert Haynesworths | Next: Three myths about vacation and productivity


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This is the most important article in the Post today.

In Western Europe, 30+ days of vacation are the norm, and quality of life is MUCH higher.

We Americans find it hard to believe that other countries live better than we do. A little traveling to the rest of the advanced industrialized democracies would be a huge eye-opener for most of us; places like Norway and even France have created societies that are far more pleasant to live in than our own increasingly plutocratic nation.

Posted by: kcx7 | August 21, 2010 10:55 PM

Dear Professor,
In your warning to employers you have overlooked one fact about life in the United States today. Employees are nothing more than an operating cost, just like utilities or raw materials. We have a surplus of workers. If you burn out an employee, you can just lay that one off and hire another, who will probably cost less and perform better in the short term. How this will affect the long-term performance of a business doesn't matter as the manager will have moved on to something else by then anyway.

Posted by: abbyandmollycats | August 21, 2010 10:00 AM

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