By Jennifer Laible
When was the last time you completely checked out of work? Time away from work is incredibly important -- it’s important for companies to give employees time to disconnect and recharge, and it’s important for all of us as employees to actually use our vacation time.
At Antenna, the marketing consulting firm where I serve as president, we’ve made time off a core part of our culture and values. One of our company traditions is the Antenna Adventure, which celebrates employees’ five-year anniversaries. It draws inspiration from one of our company’s core values, being “adventurous,” which we define as: Living with a sense of curiosity, in your career as well as in life. Take every opportunity to learn, seek out new experiences and better yourself along the way.
For each adventure, employees receive two consecutive weeks off and $5,000 for an adventure of their choice. So, when I started thinking about my five-year anniversary, I knew I had the opportunity to do something big. I planned a two-week trip to Italy and France with my sister and mom. It was the first time in many years that I had traveled on my own -- not for work and not with my husband and kids, but just as Jennifer. Here’s what I learned:
Unplugging Is An Intentional Act
You have to be really intentional about what unplugging actually looks like. Ten years ago, it would have been a no-brainer. If you traveled to Europe, you’d probably “unplug” by default. That was the only option. But now, Wi-Fi is everywhere and your smartphone is always updating you on how many unread emails are waiting for you.
First, I made the decision to leave my laptop at home. Then, I turned off the automatic fetch feature on my phone’s email app. Instead of letting my iPhone pull in new emails all day and alert me in real time, I had to make a conscious choice to retrieve my emails. While I avoided my work email almost completely, I checked my personal email most evenings. I've realized it's much less stressful to respond to communications in batches, instead of letting messages sneak into your psyche all day, every day.
Unplugging is an intentional act when you’re on vacation, but you can also bring some of those healthy habits back into your working life. Now that I’m back at the office, I’m still trying to batch my emails and spend more time doing deep work without constant digital distractions.
Vacations Highlight What’s Important
Having time and space away gave me an incredible perspective on both my job and life. It took me a few days, but by the second week away, I felt refreshed and reset. By the time my plane landed back in the Twin Cities, my head was completely clear.
That doesn’t mean you won't think about work while you're away. You probably will. But having so much low-pressure, low-distraction time to think can help you arrive at several "aha" moments. I realized that a few big, stressful issues really weren’t a big deal after all. I also pinpointed some work issues that I should be giving more of my attention.
Time away can help you sort through your own mental noise and bring priorities into focus. For example, our team is developing a new service for 2019, and I’ve spent a lot of time in the weeds, thinking through important details. The trip allowed me to go back and say, "Here are the top three things that matter most for this new service.” I got the chance to zoom out and see the project priorities in a new way.
We All Need To Get Out Of Our Bubbles
Part of my “adventure” was spending time outside of my comfort zone. Getting uncomfortable is a fast way to learn new things about yourself and the world. When you find yourself in a new, unfamiliar place, you have to really tune in and pay attention.
Here’s one thing I noticed: In Paris, I was struck by the different work pace and sense of balance. I saw much less harried rushing around, much more strolling and definitely more relaxed two-hour dinners at sidewalk cafes. The pace made my own insane workweek schedule (workout, carpool, commute, repeat) seem a world away, and I was inspired to move a little more slowly.
There’s nothing like travel to shake you out of your own point of view.
The World Will Not Crash Down While You’re Gone
I think people sometimes feel like their job or family couldn’t survive without them. I know I’ve felt that way before. But you know what? I left for two weeks, and everything was fine. No matter what your role is in a company -- whether you’re a leader, intern, or freelancer -- the world will keep turning while you’re gone.
I hear people giving a million reasons why their company won’t survive without them, or why they can’t take a vacation. But the truth is, you can. The company will be fine. Antenna -- which, with less than 100 employees, is technically a small business -- kept chugging along even without me at the helm.
Most people agree that vacation time is important -- having plenty of it and actually taking the time. But being on my own two-week adventure drove it home for me. If you’re a leader, do yourself (and your team) a favor: Take time off to clear your head, get a new perspective, learn something new and come back ready to thrive. I can count my two-week adventure as one of the best personal and work decisions I’ve ever made.
An earlier version of this post appeared on Forbes.
Subscribe to our blog to get the latest post delivered to your inbox weekly.
Stay connected with Antenna. Follow @Antenna for our take on marketing trends, corporate culture, and current events.
Antenna is a leader in delivering top marketing professionals to corporations of all sizes for project-based consulting, interim leadership assignments, and contract staffing engagements. With headquarters in Minneapolis, Antenna draws from its private community of experienced marketing talent to help clients balance the flexibility and expertise modern marketing organizations demand.