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  • Pat Libby

It’s time to take a real vacation and you can do it once a week!

We’re already mid-way through the dog-days of summer and you may be thinking, “Wow, where did the time go and why am I still stuck in the office?”

According to an annual survey conducted by Project: Time Off (PTO) – don’t you just love that there’s an organization called that?! – more than half of all Americans – 54% to be exact – aren’t using all of their vacation time!

I have a sneaking suspicion that if PTO looked at how many nonprofit staff left unused vacation time on the table, those numbers would soar to preposterous levels.

Why do I think that?

Because according to PTO, one of the main reasons people don’t take time off is because they think they’re indispensable!

Women are also far worse than men at taking vacation time and the nonprofit sector is populated mostly by women.

And, maybe worst of all, PTO reports that “Thirty-eight percent of employees said they want to be seen as a work martyr by their boss.”

These “work martyrs” are stressed out and fearful.

They are afraid that:

  • They’ll “Return to a mountain of work,”

  • “No one else can do the job”

  • They’ll “appear replaceable”

And of course, they “want to show complete dedication.”

It’s no surprise that PTO reports that folks who forgo taking their vacation report more stress at work. DUH!

What’s worse, they are less likely to report receiving a raise or bonus than their vacation-taking colleagues!

So, how do you climb off the ledge of vacation fear and take the plunge into a beautiful pool or lake?

First, practice unplugging.

As my Rabbi is fond of reminding people, even God took a day off to rest after creating the world!

You too can take a break once a week on your Sabbath – whenever you choose to celebrate it – to liberate yourself from email and social media.

Just try it – 24 hours with no email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter etc. I promise you that it will all be there when you’re ready to plug back in.

Your eyes and your mind will thank you for a vacation from plugged-in tyranny.

It may seem strange at first but I guarantee that the more you do it, the more you’ll look forward to a day without your device.

Just think about how much better your neck will feel!

Second, plan a vacation.

The PTO and others have reported that people who plan vacations are more likely to take them. If you don’t set aside the time, it won’t happen dude.

Studies have shown that you get a real psychological benefit from the act of simply planning a vacation.

Third, develop a plan for handling your communication while you‘re away.

Work is rarely siloed this days. Many projects happen in teams with colleagues who collaborate on projects.

Consider the following strategies:

  • Write an out of office email response that refers questions about particular projects to other team members

  • Have a trusted colleague or administrative assistant (if you are lucky enough to have one) check your email and text you if something comes in that’s important

  • Discipline yourself to check your email once every few days rather than 17 times a day

  • Forward your calls to a trusted colleague or administrative assistant

Finally, center yourself by reminding yourself of your place in the world.

You don’t have to be a spiritual person to engage in this type of exercise but it helps.

Take some time each week to reflect on your teeny tiny place in the world.

Know that your contributions are important but relative to everything else that’s going on, not so huge that you can’t take the time to rest.


Pat Libby is a San Diego nonprofit consultant who offers nonprofit consulting and philanthropy consulting services. Get in touch if you have any questions!

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