December 11, 2007 | | 3 Comments Americans work more hours annually on average than any of their counterparts in other countries. It’s no wonder that, even when we’re given a holiday or a vacation to relax, we still manage to pack it with so many activities and errands that it hardly feels like a vacation at all. We’ve got to get a tree. We take the kids to see Santa. We send out scores of greeting cards. We throw elaborate parties. We have to cook elaborate meals for those parties. We shop for every sibling, parent, cousin, aunt, uncle, insurance agent, and former classmate we can think of. We have to do work around the house, of course. And it never fails that one of your kids or the neighbors’ kids will get hurt playing in the snow, taking you to the emergency room at least once. We do meals-on-wheels because it’s the time of year for giving and so on. As employees straggle back into the office, the saying circulates: "I feel like I need another vacation to recover from my vacation." The insanely diligent workers of America just don’t know how to relax and enjoy the true meaning of vacation. Dictionary.com defines a vacation as "a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel; recess or holiday." While employees look forward to their vacations with great anticipation, we often fail to "suspend" our work activities. As a bunch of hard-working go-getters, rest and relaxation do not come so naturally to us, no matter how much we anxiously await these breaks. As it happens, there is also a perfectly sound business reason for employees to take vacations. Like a saw that is constantly sawing away at dense logs, so our skills, abilities, and minds become dulled over time if we continue toiling without any substantial period of rejuvenation. Research has found that truly effective, restorative vacations must be more than two weeks long and must remove most elements of the daily grind. What does this mean for all those about to start the holiday vacation? If you’re going to take a vacation from work, take a vacation from work. Vacate the daily grind completely. When you return to the job, you will feel rested, relaxed, and ready to charge into the fray. Check out the following suggestions to help you make your holiday vacation a true vacation: 1. Leave the company cell and laptop at the office. I know, it’s like cutting off one of your appendages. Actually, it’s like cutting off your leash, leaving you free to inhale, exhale, and feel human again. One former co-worker of mine decided to take a week-long vacation down to the beautiful Outer Banks of North Carolina. With the trees and the seashore this can be one of the prettiest drives you can take. It would be him, his wife, and their kids on that long, relaxing drive and then in a beach house just enjoying each other’s company. Unfortunately, my friend made the mistake of bringing his cell phone with him and telling us to call him if we had any problems. Sure enough, we had problems arise the next day. So we called my friend as he was on that beautiful stretch of highway. For two hours, instead of relaxing or having some one-on-one time with his wife, he was on the phone with us explaining the definition of a sump and the importance it held for the construction of gas station fueling systems. He was called several more times during the week for various "emergencies." Needless to say, he wasn’t on vacation. When he returned from vacation, as you could guess, he was just as crabby, stressed out, and irate as usual. When you leave the office, unplug and leave the laptop, PDA, Blackberry, and/or cell at the door. Don’t worry- they gave you the vacation and they can survive without you. 2. Leave home. Many folks find it hard to relax when they stay at home for their vacation. Why? Because the normal chores and errands are constantly around you. And those projects you’ve been postponing are beckoning for your attention. Your dishes are calling to be washed. Your hedges are calling to be trimmed. The kitchen cabinets are crying to be cleaned and rearranged. That new deck is waiting to be built. And your garage… well, I won’t even start on that one. The point is, if you stay around them long enough, you will give in to the temptation to work, and then the whole resting thing is blown. Eventually, of course, these things need to be done. However, if you really need some serious rejuvenation, you might consider leaving town. Although travel can be costly and hectic at this time of year, there are many desirable benefits to traveling. For example, the chores and errands magically disappear. You can’t work on the garage because it’s hundreds of miles away. You can tell the dishes to take a hike because you’re on a tropical beach in the South Pacific soaking up some rays, or in a cozy cabin in Vermont breathing some crisp, clean air. With someone else providing meals and housekeeping, you are free to put in some serious relaxation and quality time with your loved ones. 3. Get your shopping done early. When I say early, I mean earlier than Black Friday. Attempting any kind of shopping after that date will most certainly increase your blood pressure and chase away any holiday cheer. Crazy parents elbow their competitors fiercely to get at that last Optimus Prime. Stressed check-out counter operators look like they’re hanging on to sanity by a thread. Creepy inflatable Santas sway slowly back and forth and emit annoying Christmas jingles. Kids are screaming and acting way too naughty to actually deserve that pile of presents in the shopping cart. You are not relaxing. You are getting ready to reach over and give that kid the lump of coal he deserves. Now, I know what you’re thinking: "Black Friday is long gone. What good does this advice do me now?" For this holiday season, none. But next year, you’ll be glad you read this. 4. Schedule in some R&R. It’s so tempting to use your free time to the fullest, scheduling as many activities in as possible. Activities are good, however, too many activities equal a decrease in relaxation and an increase in stress. Repeat after me: you are on vacation to relax, not to do a lot of activities. So, let’s skip that white elephant gift exchange at your third cousin once removed Jack’s house and just have a night in with the kids watching the classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special. Now we’re talking some genuine chill time. And who doesn’t shed a tear when that crazy Yukon Cornelius tumbles down that chasm with the Abominable Snowman? 5. Sit, drink some hot cocoa, and smell the pines. Amidst the flurry of activities, take the time to meditate and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells around you. Watch the snow fall. Listen to some carolers. Savor a nice warm mug of cider or cocoa. Have a snowball fight with some kids. The holiday season can be a magical time. For many, it is a time of gratitude, hope, and renewed devotion. Don’t let this vacation go by without appreciating the things that matter most. Having successfully chilled during your holiday vacation, you will come back a more alert and able employee. What do you do to relax for the holidays? About the author Marcus Varner earned his BA in English from Brigham Young University with a Creative Writing emphasis. He is currently in his second year at BYU’s lauded MBA program studying Marketing. He blogs, writes fiction and screenplays, loves movies, and can’t resist playing superheroes with his kids.