Work

The Ugly Side Of Midweek Vacation Days

Happy day after July 4th, friends. Maybe you have today off. Maybe you even have tomorrow off. Or, maybe like Team Girlboss, you had the past few days off, and now you’re back at work, feeling a little bewildered about how to dive back into being a functioning, productive human adult. And maybe still reeling from your pre-vacation burnout?

That’s where I am. But I’m (mostly) not complaining. After all, a consecutive stretch of five days of not working is pretty great, no matter what.

However, the lead-up can be brutal.

Years ago, I used to work in a job where I would work until midnight every Friday, just to catch up on editing everything for weekend publishing. And then if news broke during the weekend, I’d end up working anyway. Holidays were even worse, because copy would come in well into the afternoon, and I’d spend the evening before the holiday long weekend (or week!) editing enough stories to keep the site humming for all the days we were out.

Like I said, brutal. But the days off always seemed worth it. A few blissful days of unplugging, of frolicking, of traveling or just vegetating at home, and of using different parts of my brain, felt essential for my well-being and my happiness. So I didn’t complain too much.

I’ve swapped the concept of work-hard-play-hard for something akin to work-hard-relax-hard.

Eventually we added more people to the team and I stopped working quite so late to prep for days off, but I’ve always held on to that approach to work in advance of holidays. That’s what I did last week, and I felt a little burned out walking into the weekend as a result.

Which leaves me wondering: Would we all live and work more successfully and happily if we didn’t sprint so hard at work in order to take purely work-free breaks and days off to unwind? In my early 20s, I fully bought into the idea of a work-hard-play-hard lifestyle being the right way to maximize my time on this planet. I don’t “play hard” all that much these days, but I suppose I’ve swapped the concept for something akin to work-hard-relax-hard. And I’m not convinced that’s better.

Here’s what the research tells us:

Over the course of the workday, intermittent breaks make you more productive.Fifty two minutes of work followed by a 17-minute break is apparently the ideal state.

Working “too much” may not be the problem. The bigger issue is the inability to switch off when you do leave the office. This is one that I’ve been working on over the past few years, and I think I’ve made a lot of progress that leaves me feeling pretty good.

Although,after you cross the 50-hour-week threshold, your productivity does decline.

Also,overwork is real—and we need to hold ourselves responsible for it.

Plus,extended breaks like summer vacations do help you “replenish job performance.” So, always-on, working-just-a-bit probably isn’t the answer either.

If you want to go super non-traditional (and you don’t work in an office),there’s also the idea of an eight-day weekinstead of a seven-day week.

I suppose, ultimately, my Utopian ideal of working less intensely for more days a week probably isn’t the solution. Pushed to really think through that reality, I’m already kind of over it. But I do think there’s an opportunity here for me—and all of us—to reconsider how we think ahead, prep for vacations, and plan for holidays.

Let me know if you struggle with something similar, and how you address your own impulses to overwork, or over-prep, or overthink about work.


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