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How to optimize your days off

It’s time to tackle a new kind of challenge: how to properly take a day-off

By: Christine Salzmann

Mon, Oct. 18, 2021

As published in our September 2021 issue, click here for the latest issue 


We are accustomed to pushing ourselves when at work, and often that continues into our lives outside of work, so when vacation time arrives, whether it is a weekend or an overdue vacation, it can be hard to turn off the overachieving-persona.

Alongside feeling the pressure to dedicate our lives to the job, there is the unspoken pressure to ensure that our days off are as “productive” our lives at the office.

The need to finish all the chores, see as many of our friends and family as possible, and etc. can take away from how a day/s off is supposed to make us feel, whether it is to simply feel more relaxed, special, or connected to ourselves and/or our family.

Due to this, our time-off can often fail to live up to our expectations. We try to do it all, and when we can’t, we feel bad and beat ourselves up about it, making the days set aside for self-care to be as exhausting as a workday.

However, it is important to remember why taking time-off is essential. The Japanese have a serious issue called “Karoshi,” an issue so common that the Japanese government formed the National Defense Counsel for Victims of Karoshi.

Karoshi is defined as “death due to over work,” and the counsel claims that around 10,000 Japanese workers die from overwork annually. The government also passed the “Work Style Reform Bill” in 2018 in a bid to encourage a less-workaholic culture that promotes taking time-off.

This showcases not only the importance of taking your vacation days seriously, but also why it is time to re-evaluate and revamp our approach to relaxation and time-off to optimize our “me-time.”

So, if you have ever returned to the office feeling sluggish and exhausted, how do you ensure that the next weekend or day-off leaves you ready to tackle the world?

First, figure out what you want from your time-off; the 3 types of day-off activities are relaxation, productivity, and pleasure. Consider what you need from your vacation or time-off, you can include all three categories in one day, you can include just two, or you can pick several activities from the same category.

Relaxing activities can be categorized as things that make you feel lazy or indulgent, from napping all day to doing something mindless like painting or staring out the window. Productive activities can be deep-cleaning or gardening, while pleasure activities are very personal and could be cooking/baking, watching a movie or playing video games.


“Planning” for the optimal day-off

While some people prefer to have unplanned and ad hoc adventures on their time off, some people need structure to get started and enjoy a good to-do list.

Whichever the case, spending at least 10 minutes with yourself and considering how you feel and what kind of activities you are looking forward to will kick off your day with a bit of confidence. By doing this, you can meet the pressure to be productive on your days-off while still working on reducing external stressors.

You can also use your day-off as a time to plan future days off, like researching and book a vacation, schedule doctor appointments, if you want to volunteer research organizations, etc.


Get Ahead

If you have spent time planning, it is now time to get ahead on the things you never seem to find time to do – housework, errands, that haircut, paperwork, and etc.

While days-off are meant for relaxing and having fun, it is rarely completely clear from annoying and unavoidable things such as errands, and as long as you are not burned out, using your day to get ahead is always smart in the long term and makes you feel productive and confident in the short term.

I highly recommend putting your errands into a to-list that can be done in a dedicated timeframe, such as between 10 am – 12 pm, so it won’t feel like errands are taking over your entire day but will still leave you feeling accomplished for the rest of it.


Dedicate Time to Connect and Socialize

The Harvard Business Review recommends setting aside some time during your day-off to catch up with friends and family.

It suggests splitting up your vacation into small increments, whether it’s a short lunch on a single day-off or most of the day in a longer vacation, to open up several opportunities to connect with friends while not feeling like you are sacrificing your family time.

“If you struggle to have an uninterrupted conversation with your spouse because your kids are always around, a similar strategy can be helpful. Find days when one or both of you can take a little time off to be together. An extra hour or two will barely make a difference at work but could make a massive impact on the quality of your relationship,” HBR explained.


Respect your way of recharging

Time-off is inherently very personal, and optimizable according to your own wants and needs.

Some people feel more energized and recharges when surrounded by friends and family or working on big projects, while others need some alone time to reset and relax.

The most important thing is to know yourself in order to have a nice relaxing day. Don't let others pressure you into “relaxing” in a way that is actually stressful for you.

Finding the time to take a day off can be difficult, and not everyone can do it regularly. So, when you do have an extra day, make sure that it truly restores you.