Have you taken a vacation yet this summer? If not, do you have one planned? For the sake of your productivity, your health, your mood, your relationships, and your brain, the answer to at least one of these questions should be yes. Americans are notoriously vacation-deprived, with less time off allowed than many developed nations--and we don't even take all the time off we're entitled to.
And yet, there are times when, despite your best intentions, taking a vacation isn't possible. For me and my husband, one of those times is right now. In the next day or two, a dozen of our friends are leaving for a big, fun, group camping trip to the Oregon Country Fair. We had tickets too, but then a perfect storm of events--closing on a house, moving, and oral surgery--combined to prevent us from going.
What do you do when you just can't take the time away you know you need and deserve? Here's how we plan to cope:
1. Give yourself permission to be bummed.
Canceling a vacation sucks. So does not being able to plan a vacation because of work demands or unexpected events. I'm not suggesting you wallow in self-pity, but you don't need to lie to yourself or anybody else about feeling disappointed, tired, or upset that you can't get away.
2. Plan some time off.
Just because you can't go on vacation right now doesn't mean you don't need time away from work. So do whatever the situation will allow. Take an afternoon off or a long lunch break here and there. Sneak out of the weekly meeting or at least take a longer-than-usual lunch break. And please try to clear your weekends of work if you can.
3. Break from your routine.
One reason vacations are so good for us--even if we spend them doing something effortful, such as a long bicycle trip or volunteering at an archeological dig, is that they get us away from our usual work routine. (Simultaneously moving and having oral surgery certainly wasn't fun, but because it forced me to stop working for several days, it did feel oddly like taking a break.)
So use that knowledge to give yourself time off without actually taking time off. Go out dancing, get a pedicure, take a ukulele lesson, or take in a movie in the middle of the afternoon. The only requirements are that it be a) something you enjoy; b) something you don't normally do; and c) not something you're doing for work.
4. Start planning a vacation in the near future.
Sometime in the next week or two, we'll be finished closing on our house and I'll be able to chew normally again. And even though all our boxes certainly won't yet be unpacked, we'll be able to take a brief getaway to make up for the trip we aren't taking this week. I'm not certain yet where we'll go, but it will be fun to start making plans. I mean to do that as soon as possible.
5. Focus on the why.
Why aren't you able to take a vacation? Chances are, it's because of something you care about deeply. Moving into a house we already love and being in a home of our own after renting for more than a year takes a lot of the sting out of missing our planned trip.
Maybe you landed a new customer or have to work on a special project. Maybe you've just started your own business and can't take time off until it's off the ground. Or maybe one of your loved ones needs you to stay in town because of a special event or because your help is needed. Whatever the reason, chances are it truly is important for you to be there. Keeping that in mind can help you put a missed vacation in perspective.
6. Don't let this become a habit.
Skipping a vacation once in a while due to highly unusual circumstances makes sense. But if it seems you can almost never plan a vacation--or if you do, it doesn't actually happen--that's a problem. If you believe things will fall apart without you, either you have an inflated sense of your own necessity or else you haven't done a good job of delegating and training others to take on your tasks. You should make it a priority to change things so that you can leave for a few days and the sky won't fall.
And if you work for a boss or a company that won't let you take a vacation, or expects you to keep working and/or checking in while you're away, then it's likely time for a change.