My client, "Dan," was a producer. Working in finance, he sold services to hedge funds. He was his firm's number 1 seller.

For being number 1, his managers rewarded him with recognition and attention. The more he produced, the more reward he felt. The more reward he felt, the more he produced.

He felt like a champion... until he took time to reflect on his situation. Then he saw the cycle of reward and productivity not as championship training but like a hamster wheel.

He didn't have ownership in his firm. Nor did his tiered, team-based compensation structure make his productivity result in more pay. The more he looked at his situation, the more he saw no material difference between being number 1 and number 3.

The Value of Time Away

Many of us are about to take a long weekend or even a week. Some people, sadly, are so stressed by work they can only use the time to unwind. Some see vacation as a source of more stress, just of a different kind, like from family.

Time away gives perspective. Time away gives distance. Time away enables you to think, review, and reflect on a different time scale.

Dan used time away to gain the insight to see the value to him of producing less. Based on the firm's structure--the firm's owners weren't open to promoting from within to the leadership roles he felt he had shown his skills for--Dan chose to get off the hamster wheel. He chose, based on his values, to target the number 3 spot.

Witness the change to his life. He told me:

Josh, I get the same pay, have the same job security, the same respect from my peers, and everything measurable and material is the same, except for one big difference:

I leave work 1 to 3 hours earlier and have my weekends free.

What price can you put on freedom like that?

Time Away Let's You See With Your Values

Productivity when you don't have ownership is often a distraction. Dan would have preferred to have ownership and tried to negotiate it but couldn't.

Only viewing from a distance, which time away gives, let him see the hamster wheel that superficial, non-meaningful reward kept him on.

Reflecting from the vantage point of his values revealed how to improve his life by his values. Producing for others wasn't it.

Long-Term Results of Acting on Your Values

Dan loved producing, just not without meaning.

Since then, Dan used his extra hours per day to discover and act on his passions. He left the old firm and started his own recruiting and placement company, using his skills to help his customers and himself.

Outside the productivity trap, he's not on a hamster wheel going nowhere. He's building value for himself and his customers. He built his business around his life, so he can work from the road, which he does, literally, doing business on road trips.

His work today is more rewarding (and pays better) than his vacations then.

Your Vacation

As you leave for your vacation, recognize the value of letting time away be time away, not just to decompress. Let yourself discover what's important and how to act on it.

Let yourself rediscover how to please yourself so you know what to do when you can't take time to reflect.

Happy Holidays and enjoy your time away!

Published on: Dec 23, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.