• shane@countryexec.com
  • Seguin, Texas
Do You Know The Essential Value Of Downtime?

Do You Know The Essential Value Of Downtime?

A couple of weeks back my wife and two of our four dogs took off to the beautiful Texas coast town of Port Aransas for a few days. We had a vacation planned in May to Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman that was of course canceled due to the pandemic. Prior to that planned vacation it had been a year since we took time off, a week spent in Playa del Carmen. All in all it equated to approximately a year and a half between what I would deem as true rest and relaxation periods. The value of downtime was learned through stepping away for a few days.

Please know I am not complaining. My wife and I agreed it was 100% the responsible and correct thing to do to play our part in staying close to home. To keep ourselves and others safe during these trying times. In saying that, my work never slowed during Covid. Quite the opposite. It ramped up due to working for a local government entity and the hard pivot that was required to empower staff for remote support functionality and the migration of the numerous traditional in person services online.

Essential value of downtime
The beautiful Mrs. Country Exec and one of our pups in Port A

Feeling It

I’m not someone that typically struggles with stress. I enjoy what I do day in day out and it consumes me in the most positive of ways. With that being said I do admit the pandemic, on top of my professional responsibilities, had been wearing me down to the point I felt I needed to take a step back and “get my head right” as I prefer to phrase it. There’s something about stepping outside of your normal routine to remind you why it is you do what you do. I felt like I needed break. To get away from the grind and absorb a few days enjoying some of the goodness life has to offer.

Man, did we ever luck out with the weather. Port Aransas, or Port A as it is more commonly called around these parts, was idyllic. It was in the 80’s every day. I’m not certain I ever saw a cloud roll in the entire time we were there. We rented a beach bungalow from a friend and rode around town in his golf cart, taking it to the beach, to dinner, and of course to go get some Texas made Blue Bell ice cream. It was fun and nice to break from the day to day, to reset and refocus. I needed it. My entire family needed it and for me to decompress because they put up with my shenanigans every day.

What Happened?

I consider myself a professional workhorse. Like the energizer bunny of sorts because I keep going and going and it never really phases me. Professionally speaking I know the value of time off. I encourage my staff to take advantage of the time earned. Spend it with family, loved ones, or doing whatever it is that makes them happy in life. I’ve never been that great at heeding my own advice in this regard.

I’ve been in my current role since March of 2018 and I have yet to take a sick day. Although I mandated an alternating work from home schedule for the staff in my department soon after the pandemic begin, I worked maybe half a day from home during that time myself. I felt I needed to be in the office to set the example and in case something critical happened. Never wanting to be difficult to find if something were to go down, it didn’t feel right for me not to be there for whatever reason. I live four miles from my office in the simplistic existence I have created for myself. It’s not a big deal to go back and forth.

The Value of Downtime

In a 2010 Harvard Business Review article Tony Schwartz stated human beings perform best and are most productive when they alternate between periods of intense focus and intermittent renewal. In country speak I would call that work hard, play hard. Maybe it should be more like work hard, rest hard. Regardless, the point is our bodies are not conditioned to be constantly grinding. A year and a half of week in, week out being the best you can be in your professional responsibilities took its toll. I didn’t feel as sharp, and I certainly had not been sleeping well for an extended period of time.

There are legitimate benefits to downtime, as in serious health advantages. Health Net stated that a host of studies have “highlighted the potential cardiovascular health benefits to include reducing the risk of heart disease.” In addition, it decreases depression, advocates less stress, and ultimately improves productivity. If you can physically benefit health wise from the time off you’ve earned through your employer you should make use of it. Per these studies you’ll be a more productive and healthier employee and person as a result. Sounds like a win for you and your employer to me.

Getting It Wrong

I don’t believe we do time off very well in the good ole’ USA. Holistically we do not seem to understand the essential value of downtime. Historically we’re not as stringent as Asia, but evidently the Europeans have figured out the benefits of downtime pretty well. In preparing for this post I came across Expedia.com’s 18th Annual Vacation Deprivation study from 2018. I didn’t know that was a thing. Per the study in 2018 the US took the least amount of vacations days (10) alongside Japan and Thailand. Interesting my wife is Thai, I suppose that’s a double whammy in the country exec household.

It was noted in afar.com by Michelle Baran that several countries in Europe have upwards of 26-30 vacation days a year. Even Brazil averaged 30 days annually, and several of the countries left little to no unused vacation time to roll over. There are some places around the world that take vacation time seriously! Obviously this is something that we as Americans and our Asian brothers and sisters out there need to be better about. I found the image and data below courtesy of Mrs. Baran’s afar.com article to be eye opening.

Essential value of downtime

How To Correct

Beforehand I didn’t think going down this path of knowledge would result in such findings. I sort of knew the US was somewhere between Europe and Asia as far as utilizing time off. I did not realize we were essentially neck and neck in putting work priorities in front of our own health and wellbeing. That’s not a sustainable path forward in my opinion. I love the grind, but I get that as humans the need to reset is fundamental. As a society we need to learn the essential value of downtime and apply it to our lives.

Here’s some great news though. According to the same studies researched for this post you don’t have to take extended time off to gain the emotional and mental benefits of a longer vacation. Leveraging long weekends and public holidays to take a few extra days off while using minimal vacation days gives us the exact same benefit as the extended vacation. In my own words researchers say two to three days can be enough to “get our heads right.”

Maximize Opportunity

If you’ve read much of my writing you know by this point, I am all about maximizing opportunities in life. I’ve spent years building up my credentials and experience to achieve my personal and professional goals. In my 20’s and 30’s I was that workhorse in the office and did not give it much thought. Today as I am approaching my mid 40’s, I don’t believe this is in my best interest. As an executive in my organization they gave me an extra week of vacation right off the bat because they expect more of the position and acknowledge the value of personnel time off. I am fortunate to work for such a forward-thinking organization and obligated to ensure I do what is necessary to be the leader they hired me to be.

At the end of the day maybe we as Americans are too bullish on stepping out of the office, meaning we think our respective organizations can’t function if we take the time we’ve rightfully earned for our hard work and dedication. Maybe some believe if they aren’t readily available constantly their employer will devalue them. It’s a catch 22 though because as studies show we are better employees when we take the time to reset.

Working To Live, Or Living To Work?

I would take that thought a step further and apply logic to the personal aspect. Are you working to live, or living to work? Do you understand the essential value of downtime? We work to provide for our loved ones, to take care of them and provide the best life we can. I personally feel I owe it to my household to professionally be the best version of myself. But they absolutely deserve your attention, your loyalty, and your time too. I would argue more so than your employer. Be a great man first, then be a great employee.

In conclusion, if 2020 is wearing you down please leverage the time off you have dutifully earned and use it to your advantage. Your mind, your health, and more importantly your loved ones will thank you for it. Go out and experience life beyond the office, you’ve earned it! We get one shot at this, may as well enjoy it. Until next time thank you for reading, and please take care of yourselves and the ones you love.

10 thoughts on “Do You Know The Essential Value Of Downtime?

    • Author gravatar

      Time off to recharge is critical to our mental health. I agree with you that North America needs to catch up with many other countries when it comes to granting paid time off, and making it okay for people to take it.

      I used to put so much pressure on myself at work until I was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness in my mid-40s. Since then I have a very different view of my importance. I no longer have a problem taking time off without feeling guilty.

      • Author gravatar

        We take our health and our time for granted it seems, expecting to be gifted another day, another week, and so on but clearly it can be taken from us at any moment. I am sorry you had to deal with a life threatening illness, I cannot imagine a more clear circumstance for putting priorities into perspective. Thank you so much for sharing, I certainly hope you and everyone else is enjoying life as best they can!

    • Author gravatar

      It’s really surprising to me to see these numbers for my native Canada. Everyone I know takes every bit of vacation time that they are entitled to. I think Australia takes an amazing amount of vacation time at least in the public sector. We met several couples in Europe and they said they get 3 months per year. I do believe that time off is essential to mental health and balance. Great post!

      • Author gravatar

        Thank you, it’s a shame we are not better about this in North America. I am 100% guilty myself. I’m not certain if it’s age related or just where I am in life today but I believe I am turning the corner with respect to valuing the time off I am afforded. Writing this post helped me think through it and put it into perspective. Odd that the intent of blogging is to share experiences and help others, yet somehow it helped me clear my thoughts on the topic in this case. Hopefully it does help someone else out there as well. I appreciate your comment!

    • Author gravatar

      The American grind is not all it’s chalked up to be. Working hard isn’t bad at all, but non stop and missing life is definitely not good either. I watched my entrepreneur parents, who were divorced my whole life, each do it differently. One missed out on everything (workaholic) – my memories are definitely different since he left this world. Then there are the ones of experiences that my mother took time away to share. He left the world penniless…and deep in debt. She retired comfortably, had traveled and left her children blessed finically to boot. You definitely cannot trade time for money. But wisdom can give you both!

      • Author gravatar

        Thank you for your comment Trina. Your first hand experience of the impact and value of downtime speaks volumes as I am certain many children and significant others can relate. It seems to be so easy to lose sight of what is really important in life. At some point we will all be forced to reflect on our choices, I cannot help but wonder how many would change some of those decisions if they had the power to do so. I wonder that about myself. It is entirely possible to juggle all of our responsibilities, prioritize our loyalties where they should be, and succeed in both our lives and careers. We have to operate with mindfulness to be everything within the scopes of our lives. I hope this post helps at least one person accomplish just that. I very much appreciate you sharing your experience.

    • Author gravatar

      This was a great read! I think it’s so important to highlight why your downtime is important to take.

    • Author gravatar

      This is such an important article! I think we do often get cornered into not taking holidays by the fact that our work doesn’t allow us to; there’s so little room for cover in staffing that people don’t feel able to take days off. This also applies to sick days, especially in insecure working environments where people know if they take one sick day too many they’ll lose their job. Hopefully a change that will come from 2020 is a willingness by the workforce to take sick days when they are required to reduce the chance of it spreading in the workplace! Glad you enjoyed your break; sounds like it was deserved!

      • Author gravatar

        Thank you so much Helen! I agree with you in believing many people possess trepidation associated with taking time off. I relate it to a athletes sustaining an injury, for instance American football concussions in years past. Concussions are taken much more seriously today, but it wasn’t that long ago players were expected to play through violent head on collisions. It feels like other places around the world have identified and taken measures to ensure the beneficial health impacts associated with time off are applied, but in North America and Asia we’re still expected to play through pain. As I stated in the post, I do not believe this is a sustainable path forward. Certainly not in the best interest of the individual, and really the company either. Hopefully we’ll catch up with the rest of the world one day. Thank you for reading!

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