Have a break. Why vacations can lead to improved performance

It is hot in Hong Kong and many of its residents are about to embark on a longer summer vacation abroad to escape heat and humidity. For many, this week is all about preparing your work for this break. Feeling stressed or guilty about being away? Then I have good news for you: Breaking away from your daily routine and going offline is key to understanding the big picture and generating new ideas. A vacation may just be the perfect thing to do to reflect on new markets to uncover or the right structure for your sales team!

Over coffee last week, I told Psychologist and Coach Birgit Rappold about this thought. She shared some science behind this: different areas of our brain are active when performing detail oriented, operational tasks, versus big picture thinking. When we break free from what we normally do and don’t follow our usual time schedule (breakfast at 6:15 am, first school bus at 6:45, second Kindergarten drop-off at 8:40, check e-mails at 9:00, write article at 9:30, fine-tune training presentations at 10:15, follow-up on sales leads at 11:30 and pick-up first child from bus at 1:00 pm), the other part of our brain starts to kick in. Increasing your psychological distance to your work allows you to think of something at a higher level of construal theory, meaning in a more abstract, big picture way. Two of the four dimensions of psychological distance are Space and Social Distance (Time and Hypothetically are the other two), explaining why traveling to a different location on your holiday and spending time with other people than the ones present in your day-to-day can enable you to better understand challenges you face in the work environment.

Don’t get me wrong - I love and cherish the routine that I have meticulously built for my family. When running smoothly, it enables my husband and me to move forward in the work we do, spend valuable time with our children, meet friends for dinner each week and go for a run around the Peak (my husband yet has to inspire me to join in the run…). The kids get to see friends for play dates, attend their swim classes and birthday parties, have downtime in between and experience nature on the weekends. But when the school term is done, my auto-pilot function is also getting increasingly tired and I am ready for a few weeks of everything different.

One study that analyzed the brains of rats showed that when a rat accepts the challenge of running through a maze and eventually finds a reward at its end, the neurons in its brain go off like fireworks: Creativity! Learning! Disappointment! Reward! As the rat learns the course of the maze and continues to repeat the path and reap the same reward, the firing of neurons shows highly reduced activity. That means that if we want growth, excitement, reward and creativity, we should walk down new paths and an extended vacation may just be it.

Before you leave on holidays, give your thoughts a little bit of structure. Maybe sit back and think about what these challenges are that you are currently facing. Understanding what ideas or thoughts you would like to debate with your friends and family while away from work might lead to you returning to your desk with a vague plan in hand.

These are two questions I will be thinking about over my summer vacation this year:

What are the advantages and disadvantages of focusing on a niche market in the work I do and which ones outweigh the others?

What products besides training would my clients benefit from the most?

So: Enjoy your well deserved vacation, have discussions over bottles of wine with old friends and allow your brain some aha moments. And who knows, maybe you’ll return energized, with a new business vision and a great understanding of what to prioritize on during the second half of 2019!