Is it just me, or is the usual summer vacation a bit counter-productive?

Yes, there’s a certain romanticism to chipping away at your list of the 936 World Heritage Sites.

Yes, there’s a duty to socialize with the family and friends who otherwise haven’t heard from you since their Christmas card of acknowledgement.

Yes, it’s fun to regale colleagues with your adventures upon return, delaying for another twenty minutes (or sixty) the work you were so desperate to escape in the first place.

But over time, you have to admit your vacation fails to do the one thing it was designed for: to help you relax.

I get it.  I have the habit of returning from most of my vacations early, even my honeymoon.

The problem isn’t that I didn’t enjoy my 10 minute camel ride in Giza, complete with picture-taking opportunities in front of the pyramids.  My travel companions aren’t bores (I love you, honey!).  But I eventually realized three important things:

  • 5 continents and 17 World Heritage sites later, and that gnawing feeling that I’m not worldly or learned enough about history hasn’t gone away
  • Batching relationships into one or two short trips a year doesn’t make the guilt of not keeping in better touch go away
  • Working like a mad woman for months prior to a vacation doesn’t help me relax

You need a vacation to recharge from the stress of your job, but then you need a vacation to recover from your last vacation.  The exhaustion of that vicious cycle is killing you and your productivity.

But what can you do about it?

Before you crawl back to work in despair, check out this list of 10 ways to really relax this summer.  You probably won’t be able to implement them all right away, but even if you manage just one or two, I guarantee you’ll feel better than you have in years.

1. Take more vacations.

By only taking one or two vacations a year, we put a lot of pressure on those moments to be perfect.  And in the process, they become very stressful.

It sounds counter-intuitive, especially if you’re already feeling overworked and overwhelmed, but you’re more likely to relax if you take more frequent vacations and dial down the expectations on each one.  And the more relax, the more productive you are when you return to work.

2. Pick up the phone.

According to Gallup, trips to visit family are the most likely to result in a feeling of exhaustion.  And no wonder.  We’re often trying to fit a year or more of connection into one or two weeks.

Prioritize your top 10 relationships for the year and then find a way to interact with them year-round.  Pick up the phone.  Write them a letter.  Or send them a gift from your relaxing vacation with a big smiley face.

3. Get more adventure from your daily life.

Sometimes when we’re tired of playing it safe in our real lives, we look to our vacations to spice things up.  The problem is that the quest for adventure edges out the relaxation you so desperately need.

An easier solution is to shake up your daily routine, and save your vacation time for more relaxing activities.

Try finding support for a creative idea you’d like to launch at work.  Join a band or make some street art. Sign up for my everyday courage challenges. The possibilities are endless (and fun).

4. Get outside.

We spend too much time squirreled away indoors, isolated from the ecosystem we’re a part of.  Few things are as good at reminding us how small and insignificant most of our problems are than taking in a good dose of the outdoors.

5. Need sleep? Take a staycation.

Surveys show that most of us sleep less on vacation than during our daily routines.  In theory, a staycation–a vacation from work without the travel–should solve that problem.  But it’s easy for workaholics to get lured by regular work triggers.  You check email. You do laundry and clean dishes.

With a bit of planning, you can make your staycation every bit as luxurious as your vacation, for a fraction of the price.

For the period of your staycation, hire a maid to come once or twice a week.  Go out to eat or enjoy the fabulousness of a personal chef.  Install some software on your computer that prevents access to your email (or the internet all together).

6. Focus, savor, return.

If we’re not careful, our vacations become a list of destinations we need to tick off the list instead of places to immerse ourselves in.  We feel like we have to “see it all,” because without saying it, we don’t intend to come back.  The goal is not to get your picture taken in front of every major monument, but to be present and savor wherever you go.

7. Plan for transitions.

You want to get a start on things (and save a few bucks), so you schedule the 6 AM flight to kick things off.  When you come home, it’s Sunday at 8 PM and you  have to go back to work the next day.

Instead, plan in transitions.  Leave later and come home early, so you can ease back into your routine over the weekend.  Yes, you’ll have less time at your destination, but you’ll be a lot more rested.

8. Extend your deadlines.

When you’re a workaholic by nature, this one is hard.  It’s not one I’ve mastered, but I’m getting better.

The truth is, nearly all deadlines are arbitrary.  So where you can, extend some of those deadlines around your holiday instead of trying to meet them all before you leave.

To avoid worrying about all the things you’re not accomplishing, map out what needs to be done on your return, with a reasonable estimate of when you’ll finish it.  Sometimes the incessant worry is due more to poor project planning than true urgency.

9. Stop treating your vacations like work.

Many of us over-plan and over-extend on vacation.  If you must make a schedule, try planning only one activity a day.  If that means you miss something, go back to tip #6.  Better yet?  Skip the schedule all together, which will make planning easier and the vacation more spontaneous.

10. Ask yourself what you need to relax.

I think one of the biggest mistakes well-intentioned family members make is to drag their loved one away to a resort and then sever ties with the office.

I realized that, as a workaholic, the solution was not to “just stop working.”  In fact, having the time and space prior to a vacation to focus on my work without interruption is just as important as the vacation itself.

Planning my ideal vacation

My first step was to get organized.  I extended some deadlines (tip #8) and committed to taking another blogging sabbatical as I did last year.  This will be my last post for the summer.  I’ll start up again in September.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be working all summer.  The next step is to start my vacation with a work retreat.

I want a week where, during the day, I can work without interruptions from people coming to fix the bathroom or having to do the laundry.  In the evenings, I want my husband home at a reasonable time, so we can all eat together without feeling rushed.  I want to be home and sleep in my own bed with my cats.  I am most at peace when I’m taking a staycation (tip #5).

Then, after a blissful week of doing what I love personally and professionally, I’ll be able to psychologically let go and enjoy some nature (tip #4).  I’d like to take a cruise through the fjords of Norway, peeling off to go hiking and kayaking.  Other than our flights in and out, there wouldn’t be a schedule or anything at all that we needed to see beyond the splendor of the scenery around us (tip #9).

So that’s what we’re going to try to do.

My ideal vacation is certainly different than yours, but I found that planning for relaxation led me in a very different direction than in previous years.  My vacation doesn’t need to be a stand-in for my self-worth or my relationships and it doesn’t need to impress anyone. I just need to honestly recharge my mental and emotional batteries.

If I’ve done it right, when I return to blogging and my business in September, I won’t feel overwhelmed or behind on my work.  And that means I’ll be in a better position to create, be adventurous, and nurture my relationships the rest of year, including my wonderful relationship with my readers and clients.

In fact, that doesn’t just sound like the ideal vacation.

It sounds like the ideal life.

Question: How do you plan to relax this summer?