Don’t Forget to Take Time Off this Year

As the pandemic rolls into its second year, many teams are still working from home. And as we continue to forgo non-essential travel, there is little incentive or impetus to use vacation days. Heck, there’s little motivation to step away from work except for maybe the odd load of laundry between Zoom calls. Don’t even get started on lunch breaks!

When the only signal that the workday has ended is a gradual shift from one screen to another, it’s hard to get excited about quitting time. Not having to commute to and from the office is great, but as remote work increasingly blurs that line between the workday and personal time, we risk slipping into an unhealthy work-life balance that will be hard to tip back even when we do return to a more in-person work environment.

With most of 2021 still in front of us, full of promise, now’s the chance to take back some of our personal time and find creative ways to renew and refresh. Here are five tips to help make time for downtime this year.

Take a lunch break

In a recent digital article for Harvard Business Review, Ruchika Tulshyan is doubling down on her commitment to eat lunch mindfully and healthily during the workday as often as possible in 2021.

According to Tulshyan, survey results suggest that “North American employees who take a lunch break every day reported higher engagement based on metrics including job satisfaction, productivity, and likelihood to recommend working there to others.”

Normalizing lunch on a regular basis is an important step forward in establishing some boundaries and seizing an opportunity to disengage and recharge halfway through the workday.

Schedule something personal at the end of the workday

With little else on the evening itinerary to draw us away from one more email or checking off that last item on the to-do list, it is difficult to call it a day. The next thing you know, five more minutes turns into 45 more minutes and your workday has become that much longer with no corresponding increase in pay or time off in lieu.

Scheduling something — like a virtual yoga class or taking the dog for a walk — forces you to unplug at the same time each day. It also provides that buffer period where you can effectively transition from work to personal time much like your commute home once did.

Need help establishing a new routine? Don’t worry, your dog will quickly get used to those five o’clock walks and his imploring eyes will be the reminder you need to get out the door!

Use your vacation days

Many people reserve vacation time strictly for travel — whether it’s quality time on the beach or checking a new exotic destination off their travel bucket list. But does that mean we should let those vacay days accrue and grind it out until travel gets the green light again?

Think of it this way: vacation is part of your overall compensation. You’ve earned it, so take it! With travel still grounded for now, we need to rethink vacation time and find new ways to recharge during much-needed extended departures from work.

Consider using your time off to complete projects around the house. Sound too much like work? No problem! Schedule the ultimate staycation instead and book yourself in for some major self-care. Want to read five books in one week? Do it! Want to grab takeout dinner from a different local restaurant every night? Do that too!

Finding ways to break from the monotony and to indulge in the things that make you feel good is so incredibly important now and always.

Establish phone/email hours

Just because you can do your work anytime, anywhere doesn’t mean you should. Establishing boundaries between work and personal time is crucial to establishing a healthy balance in your life.

Be clear about when you will be accessible by phone and email. Managing boundaries starts by communicating and sticking to the expectations you have established. Don’t worry. People adjust quickly. Just look at how quickly your dog figured out that five o’clock = walk time!

Get outdoors every day

While this may prove more challenging depending on what’s happening with the polar vortex at any given moment, it’s still doable and it is so incredibly important.

Even a quick walk around the block does wonders for energy levels and a boost in spirit. And it’s generally easier to maintain social distance outdoors, so getting out there can be a great opportunity to socialize safely. Maybe it’s time to trade the Zoom happy hour for a socially-distanced park visit or tobogganing session (public health guidelines permitting).

With so much time being spent at home, a change of scenery has never felt so good or been so good for you. In fact, studies show that spending even just 20 minutes per day in nature can lower stress hormone levels, boost self-esteem and improve mood.

As we continue to navigate this new landscape that includes a lot more remote work and time spent at home, don’t normalize endless workdays and unused vacation time. Prioritize self-care, rest, and activities that bring you joy. We do a disservice to ourselves, our families, and our teams by not taking the time we need to recharge, especially given the added stressors and challenges we continue to face.

Take lunch! Take a walk! Take vacation! Take back personal time so that it’s yours to enjoy how you want to, now and in the future.

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