The importance of holidays in productivity

I’m writing this as we come out of a holiday season. (I won’t publish it until a lot later for a whole bunch of reasons, but I’m writing it now, while the scars are still fresh in my mind.)  I can tell you from personal experience how important holidays are: my wife has just spent six out of seven weekends visiting her parents after one of them had a heart attack and surgery as a result; she was also working during the week. I’ve got a massively busy job and was supporting them (a little) and her (a lot). On top of that, there were assorted other things going on, such as an ‘adopted’ daughter being deported (long story!).

In short, we were bushed!

So bushed, in fact, that my productivity couldn’t be driven by enthusiasm and my natural energy in the same way as it often is. Instead it was driven by routine and pattern. I’ll talk about how important and routines are elsewhere for keeping up your productivity, but for now, let’s just talk about holidays.

Holidays as Restore

Using the AIR productivity-sanity framework of Act, Inform and Restore, it’s pretty obvious that holidays are an example of time spent in the Restore frame. Nothing more to say about that, really, except that as a society we have somehow managed to make holidays into hard work, which rather defeats the whole point! I can’t count the number of people who whined to me that they hated Christmas because they just had to do X, Y and Z.  Fair enough, perhaps, except that X tended to be things like have a meal with friends, Y was things like go to the cinema (movies, for you Americans 🙂 ), and Z was inevitably spend time with their families in general – children in particular.

So, you have to ask, where’s the downside?!

If you don’t want to go out for a meal with friends either don’t go.  There, that wasn’t hard, was it!  (Let’s face it, if they’re the kind of friends who wouldn’t understand you needing some ‘you time’ occasionally you need to get different friends.) Going to see a film is a treat, not a chore. And if you don’t like spending time with your kids, ask yourself who brought them up and what you can do about it, FFS. The point is that these things should make us happy, not anxious.

I even heard one person listing her working day and include the phrase “and then at about eleven I’ve got to fit in time for a coffee break – that’s another 20 minutes!“. She’d managed to make having a break sound like a chore! Get a grip! It’s possible I may have rolled my eyes out loud at some point! 🙂

That’s about as sensible as saying “I’ve got to  enjoy myself“. Something had gone horribly wrong there!

Productivity under siege

Some of this is because we just want people to feel sorry for us. We want to be seen as put-upon and underdogs. It makes it easier for us to garner sympathy if we are seen to not have any time for rest. Somehow, we create a sense of ‘being under siege’.

Productivity action point: spend a moment to see if you think less or more of other people if they say they’re too busy. Does it make you like them more? Respect them more? Pity them more? If it’s not the first too options, what makes you think they’re doing anything different to you in return!

Some of this, too, is because of our egos. We say to ourselves that if we can time to take a holiday it shows we’re not critical to the success of whatever we’re taking a holiday from. Get a grip. Even the Prime Minister takes a holiday. The list of people who are so important you can’t be spared at all, ever, even for a moment is pretty short, to be honest. Unless you’re God you can take a break. Admittedly you might not be able to take it when you want to, always (our Christmas was a day after everyone else’s because my elder daughter didn’t finish her shift as a doctor until 10 o’clock on Christmas morning, by which time she’d have been up for 36 hours) but you certainly get away at some point.

Productivity action point: spend two minutes to see if you’re fibbing to yourself and just pretend you can’t take a break! You’re probably  not that important… get over it 😉

Holiday tricks and treats

Despite what I’m pretending, we’ve all been there … the formality of rituals, expectations and holiday traditions mean that there’s a high level of expectation.  Add to that the chance that some of those rituals probably include spending time with people we either don’t know (family we don’t often see) or don’t like (family we don’t want to see!) and you’ve got a reasonable chance that the holiday isn’t the Restore that it’s supposed to be. So what are your options?

Productivity action point: own it. Stop pretending that you’re put upon by anyone other than you, your own expectations and your own habits. Yes, yes, I know, I know!  That’s not easy!  God knows I know!  I suffer with you here. Big time! Once you’ve recognised that your holiday (or at least parts of it) aren’t restful time for you, you can schedule in something to help you. Perhaps a day of  ‘special time for me’ at the end of the family holiday… and if your family wont let you do that, maybe you need a long, hard talk with them. Or just to get a new family!  😉

Productivity action point: stop it. If your holidays aren’t working as time to Restore Your Soul (I wish I could put TM after that), have the guts to do an assessment. Why are you doing what you’re doing? A quote often attributed to Einstein (we’re not sure it originated with him but let’s pretend!) goes a bit like this “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. Soooooo if your holiday wasn’t good for you last year, or the year before, or the year before, WTF are you doing it again this for and hoping-against-hope that this year it’ll be different?!

Try a traffic light exercise.

Personal confession: I just tried to upload an image of a cartoon Einstein to use here three times, each time being told it was over the size limit allowed for this site… It didn’t work the first time, so what made me think it would work on the repeats?!?! 🙂

Productivity action point: change your mindset. I know this one is easier said than done, but why not follow the advice of Mary Poppins: a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. In everything you do there’s always something to find that is a way to enjoy it – or at least appreciate it. I hate going to the gym (oh GOD I hate it!) but I can find ways to appreciate it by reminding myself of why I do it. I know it’s not always easy, but it’s usually do-able. I’ll write about ways to do that another time.

So what?

What do you think?  Are holidays something we’ve started to get horribly wrong?  And if so, what can we do about it?  Any why do we do it? Am I right in my beliefs about why it happens?

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