By Jamie Gruman, University of Guelph

Long weekends can give each of us a chance to recharge our drained batteries, but only if we make smart choices about how we spend our time away from work. All weekends are not created equal.

Sometimes we return from our weekends replenished, full of vigour and feeling like we can tackle whatever life throws at us.

Other times, when the new week rolls around, we’re still exhausted from the previous week and just want to climb back into bed and hide.

However, a few simple tricks can help you make sure that your weekends fuel successful recovery and help you be at your best.

I learned about the ways in which our leisure time can help or hinder how recovered we feel while doing research for my upcoming book Boost: The Science of Recharging Yourself in an Age of Unrelenting Demands (Information Age Publishing).

A boost is when your leisure time lets you fully recharge your batteries and return to your obligations happier, healthier and more effective at your tasks. Recharging is so important. The stress we experience at work, and the long hours we put in, can cause hypertension, heart disease and even early death.

Boosting prevents this.

Compared to weekends, most people consider vacations better opportunities to decompress and refuel. So here are a few ideas to help turn your Easter long weekend into a break that feels more like a vacation that fully recharges your batteries:

Get out of your normal routine

This weekend, don’t just lie around the house and run errands like you typically do. Do something out of the ordinary. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. It just has to be different.

Go for a hot air balloon ride. Hike through a forest with friends. Or just spend a day as a tourist in a nearby town. The novelty and unpredictability of uncommon weekend activities will lead you to experience strong emotions that help you put work out of your mind and create memories you’ll cherish.

Distancing yourself from your standard routine can make you feel like you’re away from your normal life, which feels like a vacation.

Plan ahead to minimize stress

Negative experiences have a bigger impact on us than positive experiences. Spending many frustrating hours sitting in a traffic jam on your way to meet friends at a restaurant can easily outweigh the enjoyment you gain from the subsequent sparkling conversation.

Not everything can be planned in advance, nor should it be, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the same way you might reserve a boat for para-sailing before you leave on vacation, plan the predictable parts of your long weekend ahead of time so you can avoid unnecessary stress and disappointments.

Instead of leaving for dinner with just enough time to get to the restaurant, leave early, sidestep the evening traffic and spend an extra couple of hours leisurely window shopping or people-watching.

Spread out the pleasure

Research shows that big, uncommon pleasures such as buying a new car or going on a cruise have less of an impact on our level of happiness than frequent, small pleasures, such as regular afternoon tea, or slowly devouring a box of gourmet cookies over a few days.

When you’re on a weeklong vacation in an exotic location, novelty and surprises persist over seven days. On your long weekend, spread out your enjoyment and savour a bunch of small indulgences over three days instead of confining it to one moment.

At Christmas time, some families do something similar by opening one present a day for a number of days instead of opening them all at once. Not only does this prolong the pleasure of opening gifts and seeing people’s reactions, but extends the pleasure of anticipation.

The pleasure that we derive from anticipating experiences can sometimes be even more enjoyable than the experiences themselves. Spreading out your pleasure over a three-day weekend makes work seem a million miles away and helps you recover.

Consider volunteering

When work is uninspiring, meaningless or even dehumanizing, we can recover meaning and purpose in our lives through volunteering. Indeed, volunteering on vacation, or “voluntouring,” is growing in popularity.

Why not volunteer on a long weekend? It seems paradoxical, but one of the ways we can best recover from the demands of work is by voluntarily working for the benefit of others. If you do this, you should volunteer for causes that are personally meaningful to you.

Goals come in two forms. Intrinsic goals reflect pursuits we find inherently rewarding and meaningful. Extrinsic goals are those we pursue to achieve fame, fortune or otherwise impress other people.

Our happiness is enhanced when we focus on satisfying intrinsic goals. So volunteer for causes that you are inherently motivated to advance.

If you make smart choices about how to spend your long weekend, it can feel like a full-fledged vacation and totally recharge your batteries.

Douglas Coupland, the author of Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, recently suggested that because of cloud computing, weekends will eventually disappear from our schedules as work time becomes intermingled with leisure time.

He might be right. And when that happens, we might be able to give ourselves long weekends whenever we want. But until then, we need to make the most of the long weekends we have so that our leisure time not only gives us a break, but gives us a boost.The Conversation

Jamie Gruman, Professor of Organizational Behaviour, University of Guelph

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

How to not fail your summer vacation

| Estimated read time:
Don't let your summer vacation go to waste

Do you sometimes feel you need a vacation from your vacation?

by Jamie Gruman, University of Guelph

Lots of people will take a vacation this summer, but for many of them, their vacations won’t be the relaxing, recuperative getaways they were hoping for.

Research shows that about 40 per cent of people return from their vacations and feel either no better, or even worse, than before they left.

This happens because many of us make mistakes that compromise how enjoyable and satisfying our vacations can be. Below are some simple recommendations that you can implement before, during and after your vacation that will help ensure that your time off this summer is pleasurable, gratifying and fully recharges your batteries.

Plan ahead

Vacations can be stressful. Minimize your stress by planning out key parts of your vacation before you leave.

Reserve a flight outside of rush hour so you don’t get stuck in traffic. Book your scuba diving adventure a few weeks in advance.

Coordinate your decision-making and expectations with travel mates before you leave for vacation.

Coordinate your decision-making and expectations with travel mates before you leave for vacation. Image: Pixabay

Before leaving make sure that you and your travel partners are clear on everyone’s vacation priorities and have a general agreement about how you’ll spend your time.

While you are away you don’t want to engage in potentially stressful negotiations about how to fill your days. Even a single negative incident on vacation, like an argument with a spouse, reduces how much your time away improves your health and well-being.

Put away the electronics

A necessary ingredient for recharging your batteries on vacation is mentally disengaging from work. It’s not enough to physically leave the office, you have to mentally leave the office.

This is called psychological detachment. If you’re on the beach constantly looking at your phone to see what’s happening back at work, you’re not psychologically detached. If you check your email three times a day, you’re not psychologically detached.

If you don’t psychologically detach you won’t replenish yourself much on your trip. Turn off the electronics and clear your mind. That said, if you get anxious about the mountain of emails that will be waiting for you when you get back to work, you will also have trouble chilling out. So, engage in email triage.

Once every three or four days, check your email and delete anything you can dispense with immediately. Then, reply quickly to anything that can be addressed with a simple, token response, and mark as unread anything that needs some thought and should be tackled when you get back. This cuts the huge mountain of emails down to a small pile, which will put your mind at ease and allow you to unwind.

Read more:
The importance of actually unplugging on National Day of Unplugging

Enjoy yourself

Be a little bit selfish on vacation and ensure that you get to do what floats your boat. Enjoying yourself is a necessary ingredient in making sure your vacation is recuperative.

Make sure to do things you enjoy.

Make sure to do things you enjoy.

Vacations are supposed to refresh you and alleviate the burnout you suffer at work, and research shows that when you enjoy yourself and are satisfied with your vacation, your level of burnout drops significantly while away, but when you are not satisfied, your level of burnout barely changes.

Similarly, whether or not you enjoy your vacation strongly affects how refreshed you feel when it’s over. Take time for yourself and participate in activities you find pleasurable and satisfying. This is your vacation. You’ve earned it.

Staycations are OK

Not everyone has the disposable funds for travel vacations. But that’s OK. Staycations can be as effective as exotic getaways if they are done right.

Staycations can be great. But get out of your routine!

Staycations can be great. But get out of your routine!

The main mistake people make during vacations at home is that they stay in their normal routine. They cook, they clean, they watch TV. In short, they don’t “vacate” their normal lives.

If you stay at home on your vacation, shake things up. Visit local tourist attractions. Eat different foods. Take day trips to neighbouring communities. Getting out of your normal routine can make a staycation feel as novel and recuperative as an excursion to a foreign land.

Read more:
How to turn your long weekend into a vacation

Come home a little early

We usually come back from our travel vacations on Sunday night so we can return to work Monday morning. We do this because we think that maximizing our vacation time means making the vacation last as long as possible.

But the goal of our vacations shouldn’t be to make them as long as possible but to make them as effective as possible. If you return home Sunday night you’re likely to run around trying to hurriedly unpack, water your plants, do laundry, pick up some groceries, check your phone messages and various other things you need to do to get back into the swing of things.

However, scrambling about is stressful and can quickly undo all the health and well-being gains you made while on vacation. Research shows that people who return from vacations a little bit early report being in a better mood for longer than those who return on a Sunday.

Arrive home with enough time to relax and organize before work on Monday morning.

Arrive home with enough time to relax and organize before work on Monday morning.

Bookend your vacation with as little stress as possible. Come home early enough to leisurely get back into your normal routine, and ease back into work retaining your vacation benefits for as long as you can.

People often complain that they need a vacation from their vacation. When we return from our time off feeling just as depleted and tired as before we left it is usually because our vacations didn’t allow us to replenish our drained resources, satisfy our needs or adequately disengage from our normal routines.

The ConversationImplementing a few simple tactics before, during, and after your vacation can ensure that your time off this summer fully recharges your batteries and lets you return to work feeling healthy, happy and productive.

Jamie Gruman, Professor of Organizational Behaviour, University of Guelph

This article was originally published on The Conversation.