Micro-Vacations: Getting the Most from a Day Off

The prospect of “vacation” often gives rise to thoughts of faraway lands. Those “bucket-list” trips can be a lot of fun, but they also take a significant amount of time, energy, and money. Some of us even feel exhausted just thinking about planning a big trip—not only in terms of juggling personal commitments and school breaks, but also how to manage to delegate work projects or put responsibilities on hold over a holiday. For these reasons, Americans are prone to putting off their vacation plans, waiting until the golden moment when their schedules aren’t so demanding. Of course much of the time, we simply get to the year’s end only to discover that our paid time off has gone unused.

Elizabeth Grace Saunders, a popular time management coach and author of “How to Invest Your Time Like Money” and “Divine Time Management” has helped many people in this predicament by reminding them that we don’t need a major vacation to promote health and happiness. In fact, she’s experimented with the concept of “micro-vacations” taken on a frequent basis — typically every other week. These small windows of time off can boost happiness and give workers the sense of having “room to breathe.”

From Saunder’s perspective, micro-vacations are breaks that only require a day or less of vacation time. Due to their shorter duration, they require much less planning effort. In addition, micro-vacations don’t usually require is to delegate or coordinate work projects while we’re gone. Because of these benefits, we can take micro-vacations more frequently throughout the year, providing the opportunity to recharge before we burn out.

If you feeling like you need a break from the day-to-day but can’t set aside the time for an extended vacation, here are 4 tips for introducing micro-vacations to your life:

  1. Weekend trips. In place of week-long adventures, consider a two- to three-day trip to a local destination. Especially for those in urban areas, traveling even a few hours can make you feel like you’re in a different world.

To make the trip as refreshing as possible, try to get time off on Friday so you can finish up packing, arrive at your destination, and do a few fun activities before calling it a night. That still leaves you with 2 days to enjoy the area. If you return by dinnertime on Sunday, you can unpack and get your life in order before the workweek starts again.

Granted, there will likely be a few more e-mails to process on Monday, but other than that, a 3-day micro-vacation shouldn’t create any big work pileups.

2. Margin for personal to-do items. Sometimes checking off the little things on your list can make you feel in charge of your life again. Consider taking an afternoon—or even a full day—to complete the non-work tasks you really want to do but struggle to find time for. This will allow you to finish those activities in an unrushed approach. For example, think of those appointments like getting your hair cut, nails done, oil changed, or doctor visits. You know that you really need to get these taken care of, but finding the time is difficult with your normal schedule.

Or maybe you wish to take the time to do stuff that you never have time for, like picking out new furniture, unpacking boxes in your garage, or setting up your retirement account. Technically this is something we could do on a weeknight or over the weekend. But if you keep finding that you’re not completing those tasks and you have the vacation time, use it to lift some of the weight from the nagging undone items list.

3. Shorter days for socialization. As people get older — and especially after marriage and kids — we often spend less time with friends. One way to find time for your buddies without feeling like you’re sacrificing your family time is to take an hour or two off during the day to meet a friend for lunch or to get together for happy hour. If you’re allowed to split up your vacation time in these small increments, a single vacation day could easily give you four opportunities to connect with friends who you otherwise might not see at all.

If you struggle to have an uninterrupted time with your spouse because your kids are always around, the same strategy can be helpful. Find days when one or both of you can take a little time off to be together. An extra hour or two will barely be noticed at work, but it could make a huge difference in the quality of your relationship.

4. Remote days for decompression. A lot of workplaces offer remote working options for some or all of the week. If that’s an option, take advantage of it from time to time.

Technically, working remotely is not a micro-vacation, but it can sometimes feel like one.  If you have a commute of an hour or more each way, staying home can allow you to sleep in a little and avoid the stress of traffic. Or, it can add back in two or more hours to your life that can be used toward those personal tasks or social times discussed above.

In addition, those who work in offices that are loud, lack windows, or where drive-by meetings are common, working remotely can feel like a real luxury. Plus, you’re likely to get more done. A picturesque location can also give you a new sense of calm as you approach stressful projects. Many find that if they’re working in a beautiful setting, like a coffee shop or hotel lobby by a lake, it almost feels as good as a vacation. Our surroundings have a huge impact on how we feel.

In short: rather than approaching “vacation” as a major event once or twice a year, consider micro-vacations on a more regular basis. By giving yourself permission to take time for yourself, you can increase your sense of wellbeing and ease the pressure on your day-to-day schedule.


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