My fellow Americans, we suck at vacations.
A new workplace study from Horizons Workforce Consulting found that only a third of U.S. workers take full advantage of their paid vacation days. Almost half of us feel compelled to check in with work while we're away. Overall, those of us who don't take enough time off are more likely to feel burned out, to have less energy to manage our work responsibilities, and to feel unable to meet work requirements.
It's about time we put an end to this lousy vacation contagion, so I asked entrepreneurs, business leaders, and others how to get better at getting away. Here are some of their best tips.
1. Act like a European.
"Follow the example of Europeans: Tell everyone in advance that you'll be unreachable," advises Sean Radvansky of Insight Pest Solutions. "Then make yourself unreachable. It rocks. Most of us in this country are terrible at letting go."
2. After 30 minutes, put your phone away.
"As entrepreneurs we often get so caught up in our work. My best suggestion for getting the most out of a vacation would be to put all technology away, except for 30 minutes a day," says Ian Aronovich, co-founder and CEO of Government Auctions.
3. Take a camera.
Why a camera? So you're not tempted to take your phone with you everywhere you go, suggests Chris Bryant of Empire Studios.
4. Change your passwords.
"For me, I like to 'go dark,'" says Brian Scudamore, CEO and founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK. "I ask my executive assistant to change the passwords to my email and social media, and she alone holds them until I have the time to revisit those accounts."
5. Test your staff.
"My advice would be to not only cherish this essential time, but use it as a testing opportunity for your staff. Will they thrive and lead? Or shirk and coast? You can perhaps most effectively evaluate employees when you're physically absent," suggests Michael Hartofilis, vice president and co-founder of Greenlight Energy.
6. Choose something relaxing to do.
Kallen Diggs, author of Reaching the Finish Line, suggests trying a holistic retreat if you're sorely in need of a deep vacation, because they "offer meditation classes, spa sessions, special interest workshops, and a great opportunity to be immerse yourself in a different environment."
7. Come back on Saturday.
"Return from a trip on Saturday night instead of Sunday afternoon, to give yourself time to re-enter your world and prep for your return on Monday," suggests Deborah Heisz, editorial director of Live Happy.
8. Delegate while you're gone.
"At least a month before your trip, you should make a list of everything that you need covered to allow your business to run smoothly while you are away. Find someone you trust to delegate those tasks/duties ... and give them the authority to make decisions on their own," says Angela Ferendo, CFO of Slyde Handboards.
9. Do your work ahead of time.
"Do two weeks of work in the week before you go on vacation. We leave for two weeks on Saturday and we're working on a meeting agenda as we speak," says Brad Barrett, founder and president of GrillGrate.
10. Remember to take it easy.
"Even if you're traveling rather than just vacationing, be sure not to overschedule," suggests Sophia Dembling, author of Introverts in Love. "I enjoy sightseeing, but I try to plan no more than one official sightseeing excursion per day and leave the rest of the day for wandering, sitting, exploring."
11. Embrace strategic opportunities.
"The main purpose of a vacation is to take a break from the small urgent problems of the present, in order to gain greater perspective," says Joanna Berzowska, head of electronic textiles at OMsignal. "These important future problems are often overlooked when surrounded by the urgency of the everyday, but they are crucial."
12. Establish a vacation office.
If it's unrealistic to stop working entirely, find a place to work that's separate from everything else, offers Chris Oler, president and lead writer of COLOR Marketing & Design. "Coffee shops work better for me. The white noise of conversation is similar to an office."
13. Do something wild and different.
"I'm constantly traveling for work, so when I travel personally, I'm looking for a unique experience that truly differentiates from the day-to-day," said Sherry Chris, CEO of Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate. "The out of the ordinary experiences ... allow me to truly lose myself in the experience of a new culture and new surroundings."
14. Front load your indulgences.
"I always focus the last third of my vacation on wellness--so even if I party and get after it, or eat and drink a bunch of unhealthy stuff early in my vacation, it isn't how I end the trip. Definitely don't get on the plane back home hung over!" advises Sean Kelly, CEO of Human.
15. Work from home first.
"My single best tip for maximizing vacation time is to work from home the day before the first travel day of the vacation," suggests Nancy J. Geenen, CEO and managing partner of Suann Ingle Associates, LLC. "My staff adjusts to my being out of the office and yet I am available to handle last minute tasks or requests. My second best tip is to go fly-fishing in Idaho or Montana, as there is little or no cell service on the rivers."
16. Make mornings for work.
This is a common refrain: In our modern world, few people can tune out 100 percent from work.
So, suggests David Scarola, vice president of the Alternative Board, "allocate a certain amount of time--usually first thing in the morning--to getting caught up in business. Once this is completed, convert to vacation mode for the rest of the day. Vacations can actually be more relaxing for entrepreneurs when they aren’t stressed out, wondering if everything is going well back at the business."
17. Reach out to ex-pats.
If you're traveling overseas, especially to more unusual destinations for Americans, Monica Weintraub, an American expatriate entrepreneur in China, suggests reaching out to people like her ahead of time.
"My best advice is to look up the ex-pat websites of the city you're traveling in," she suggested. "It's like getting to ask a local who speaks English for the must-sees before you even arrive. The ex-pats will guide you off the beaten path and tell you the best places they frequent and how to get to them."