The European Union’s Working Time Directive guarantees EU workers a minimum of 4 weeks paid annual leave. Looking at the United States, where employers are not required to grant paid vacation days and over 50% of American workers who do receive paid vacation also leave some unused, we should consider ourselves lucky.

Taking time off work actually improves productivity and mental health, as well as the physical effects stress has on our bodies.

But making the most out of our vacation to relax and recharge is easier said than done.

A Dutch study from 2010 found that most vacationers were not happier after a vacation, with stress being the main factor. In order to minimize stress during our summer vacation, and leave room for that extra R&R, take some time both before, during and after your vacation to prepare.

Follow these three steps to enjoy the benefits of a real break from work. After all, you have earned it!

01 / Before you go on vacation

A lot of the preparation for a less stressful vacation should happen before you even leave your office.

  • Prioritize your tasks and create a to-do list.
    Create an overview of your projects and tasks, and make a list of the things that must be done and dusted before you leave, and share this with your manager and team to align expectations. Unless urgent matters come up, also make sure to stick to your list.
  • Prepare to unplug.
    Compose an Out of Office message that clearly states your availability to avoid an overwhelming workload upon your return. You can, for example, write that you will not respond to your emails while you are away, and instead direct them to a colleague who has agreed to cover for you. Make sure to block some time in your calendar on your first day back from vacation – knowing you have some time scheduled to catch up on your inbox will hopefully ease your stress level while away.
  • Visualize what your vacation will be like.
    What makes you relax when you are not on vacation? Think about the things that give you joy in life, and imagine what positive feelings your vacation will bring you. This will set the tone as you prepare for your time off.

02 / While on vacation

The same Dutch study also found that vacationers who actually do feel better when returning from vacation are people who had a “very relaxing” time off.

  • Set an intention and plan your vacation.
    Bad planning can very well lead to a stressful vacation, which takes away the positive effects of some time off. Just like with work, set an intention for your vacation and plan accordingly. The less the stress, the more energized you will feel.
  • Immerse.
    Now when you’ve done the preparations to unplug, make sure to really immerse yourself and enjoy your time off. Do those things that make you relax, that give you joy. You deserve this!

03 / Returning to work

While there are some things to figure out before you leave the office, you should also consider your return. ‰

  • Allow yourself to relax after your vacation.
    Returning to work with an immediate feeling of stress can quickly take away the benefits of a vacation. If possible, take a day off before returning back to work and use this day prepare yourself and slowly get back to work-mode. ‰
  • Build up a transition period.
    Allow yourself some time to adjust to your usual work routine. Stick to the blocker you added to your calendar to go through your inbox on your first day back and make a plan once you get an overview.

This article is part of our Summer Book, a fun and easy to read guide filled with articles to read during your well-deserved break. You can download it here.

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