How Can You Continually Perform at Your Best? Take a Vacation (or Two)!

10 May 2019


Dr. Nicolas Chevrier

Organizational Psychology


Vacations are often seen as a waste of time or an obligation. Yet, organizational psychology studies indicate that the opposite is actually true. In fact, studies have shown that vacations are the key to continually maintaining a high-level of performance at work.

I therefore thought I would use my column today to speak to you about some of the valuable leads discussed in performance management studies.

Performance Is a Renewable Resource

Before you can develop healthy performance management skills, you first need to develop a realistic concept of work. This means managing your workplace performance as you would manage a renewable resource. Because just like renewable resources, our internal resources (attention, concentration, motivation, judgment, patience, analytic capabilities, physical fatigue, etc.) can dry up when they’re mismanaged.



Work Is Like a Marathon

Think about an entrepreneur’s work in the same way that a marathon runner thinks about their race. Experienced athletes know how to manage their resources. They know that they will have to push for greater efforts at certain times, and that they must also counteract these greater efforts with recovery time. If I want to increase my cadence to take the lead in the race, I have to have pre-planned to slow down, grab some water and rehydrate. Likewise, I also have to plan to slow down once I’ve gained the lead so that I can recover and be ready for my next surge in effort.

Entrepreneurs and marathon runners are actually quite similar. An entrepreneur’s working life is punctuated with moments when, just like marathon runners, they have to push for greater efforts to reach their goals. Indeed, just like marathon runners, in order to survive this surge in effort, entrepreneurs also need to plan recovery time.

The Two Types of Recovery

When it comes to the best ways to renew your internal resources, organizational psychology literature is clear (S. Sonnentag, 2018*): it’s a two-tier system.

1. First of all, you need to plan a few hours’ worth of recovery activities during working periods. For example, playing team sports once a week or spending a couple of hours at the spa to relax on a weekend. Both of these are great examples of things that can help you psychologically switch off from work. Cooking classes and planning renovations are also really good ways of renewing your internal resources, the first because you are learning something unrelated to your work, and the second, because it is a structured project, that again, is not related to your work.

2. Vacations. Am I saying that vacations are essential if you want to maintain a long-term healthy performance? Am I saying that not taking vacations could in fact make you less competent, result in more mistakes, make you angrier, result in you losing your passion for your work, and could even increase the likelihood of you not participating in a healthy work environment? Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

Entrepreneurs who don’t take vacations are like marathon runners who sprint for the whole race. Not only will they be less efficient, but they probably won’t finish on the first try.

Every 12 Weeks

Workers with very demanding jobs, those who work long hours, and those who are on call electronically (reachable via email or text, for example) are the most likely to burnout. The academic recommendations couldn’t be any clearer.

To maintain optimal levels of performance year-round (in other words, never working at 30% or 40% productivity because you’re too tired), you need to plan to take time off every 12 weeks. This should include two weeks off over the holidays and during the summer, and one week off in the fall and in the spring.

By following this rule of thumb, you’ll be able to perform at your best every single week.

What about all the executives who feel guilty about taking vacations? Remember, not taking vacations actually makes you less efficient and will reduce your overall performance throughout the year. Successful entrepreneurs must therefore remember that vacations are an integral part of our work, and that if you don’t take time off, you’re hindering your long-term success.

*Source: Sonnentag, St. (2018). Recovery from Job-Stress, JoOB 36-S1, 72–103.

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