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It’s probably never been easier to acknowledge that a lot of us work too much and too hard, and should take more time off. Indeed, according to the NY Times, the very idea of burnout seems to be having a cultural moment.

“If you think you’re burned out, you’re burned out,” Jill Lepore wrote recently in The New Yorker, summarizing the workplace zeitgeist, “and if you don’t think you’re burned out, you’re burned out.” The time has come for workaholics and productivity junkies (and the rest of us) to be as deliberate, thoughtful and creative about taking breaks as they are for a reason. And that is about more than just using up vacation days.

Your biggest obstacle to getting time off is probably you: It can be hard to give yourself that permission to do nothing when there’s just so much to do. Consider, however, that Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive, has said he sets aside “puttering time” every morning before taking any calls or meetings — basically carving out a scheduled chunk of do-nothing time. Are we really that much busier than him?

The point isn’t just that it’s nice to goof off every so often — it’s that it’s necessary. And that’s true even if your ultimate goal is doing better work: Downtime allows the brain to make new connections and better decisions. Multiple studies have found that sustained mental attention without breaks is depleting, leading to inferior performance and decision-making.

The good news is that at least some companies are starting to take breaks seriously. Lately, companies including LinkedIn and Roblox have experimented with mandatory vacation for all or most employees in the form of “spring break” periods. Actions like these that emphasize the value of time off represent a “profound” shift.

There are various methods to unplug and rest. You could try literally ‘Unplugging’. The dream of a weeks’ long “digital detox”. Additionally, If you add to your routine a simple walk around the block to clear your head, make sure you really clear it. Spending the whole time checking social media and monitoring your step count is not a quality break. Leave your phone behind, make a point to notice something new and different on every walk.

Turning the walk into a game ensures that your mind is engaged with the world rather than brooding about the work you’re supposedly taking a break from. If that’s too much, narrow it to completely unplugging from work.

But wait — don’t such ideas sound kind of like another form of work? More goal-oriented tasks intended to boost productivity in the long run? Is developing a rest ethic ultimately another job? Perhaps so. But then again, maybe that’s the only language the unhealthily work-obsessed really understand.

Share with us your thoughts? Should companies nudge workers to take vacation time? Should vacation be forced on the unwilling and the restless?


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