This article originally appeared on Forbes.
When we think about success, it’s easy to pinpoint traits like focus, tenacity, and hard work. But part of success is knowing when to unplug and recharge to revitalize both mind and body.
Yet vacation in America is nearly extinct. According to a new report from Project: Time Off, we collectively wasted a record-setting 658 million vacation days in 2015, left by 55% of workers. And 65% of survey respondents reported hearing nothing, mixed messages, or discouraging messages about taking time off from their employers.
“Workers are basically giving away their time for free,” noted a recent Wall Street Journal story, which reported that workers forfeit a whopping $52.4 billion in earned benefits per year.
This has to change. A burned-out workforce results in reduced productivity and retention. We need relaxation now more than ever. A recent Harvard Business Review survey of more than 180 business leaders found that 43% don’t get enough sleep at least four nights per week but that sufficient sleep is strongly linked to results-oriented, effective leadership. When we’re not rested, our wiring short-circuits. We’re more liable to overreact, dwell on mistakes, and make rash decisions.
Harvard’s piece urged mandatory work-free vacations and work-time limits. I’m all for it, but we also need to reframe vacations so that we actually feel comfortable instead of guilty when we do log off. Otherwise, we’ll never truly break away.
Here’s how to alleviate that guilt and reframe your thinking to maximize your time off for better health and better productivity.
The fear: Only weak people take time off. I can power through. If I can’t, aren’t I weak, too?
The fix: This is a common belief—I call them icebergs—and it’s patently untrue. Savvy people know that time away reboots our body and mind, with numerous physical and mental benefits. Next time you hear a needling voice in your head scoffing at your desire for time away, counter with an internal monologue: “I’m bumping up against that familiar iceberg of always needing to deliver. I prize my ability to be productive, but it’s not always possible or healthy. That doesn’t mean I’m compromising my values; I’m doing what’s best for myself. I am only human and can only do what’s humanly possible.”
The fear: Nobody will be prepared for my absence and work will fall through the cracks while I’m gone.
The fix: Over-communicate! Talk about your vacation timeline well in advance. Put plans in place with colleagues to cover for your absence. Delegate coverage, document it, and share it. Assuage your sense of guilt by taking proactive steps to ensure a seamless transition, so when you unplug, you truly unwind.
The fear: Important people work long hours. By taking time off, I’m abdicating my status.
The fix: Shatter this false belief with some real talk about your identity. Remind yourself that important people don’t work long; they work smart. There’s no valor in conforming to the social pressure of constantly working long hours. Prepare for your vacation in advance by finding ways to streamline your workday. Are you taking on unnecessary responsibilities? Are you frittering time on unimportant tasks? Do a gut check with your to-do list, and chances are you can find ways to pare back. This way, when it’s time to sign out for a few days, you won’t feel overwhelmed.
The fear: C’mon, there’s too much to do. I can’t really get away—but maybe I can try to unwind while working a bit. There’s Wi-Fi at my hotel, right?
The fix: Don’t fall into the common trap of taking a halfhearted long weekend while checking your email the entire time. Repeat after me: This is not a vacation. Having delegated responsibilities before you left, honor yourself by staying true to your promise. Still panicking? Ask yourself: How many truly urgent emails have you received at 2 a.m.? Is there really anything going on in your life that can’t wait a week? Chances are, the answer is no.