We’ve all heard the adage “Vacation is a state of mind,” but some (or most) of us don’t embrace the core of this idea. In the competitive world of academic medicine, it’s easy to feel like you need to work 24/7/365 – after all, your colleagues, trainees and leaders often send you emails at 4am. It’s difficult to silence that little devil on your shoulder whispering in your ear, “Everyone else is working non-stop; you should, too.” The guilt is terrible. In the past, I would take vacations (they are called “family trips” when you do them with kids!) but I would feel guilty the whole time and try and “catch up” on work even while I was away “relaxing” on vacation.

A few years ago, I did an experiment. I decided to approach things differently. Before leaving, I met with my trainees to help them make plans for when I was away and asked a lab colleague to be available for “emergencies” in my absence. Then, I left and did no work while on vacation. None. Zero. Not even a single email. What happened when I got back to work? Nothing! My office was still there, my team was in the lab, the patients were in the hospital and the world had not collapsed. As a bonus, I had a great time away! Since then, I’ve adopted a “zero work” policy while on vacation.

Here are some “mind tricks” you can use to get into the vacation state of mind:

  1. First and foremost – give yourself permission to go on vacation and NOT WORK. The pressure to work continuously comes from within your own head, not from outside. Let go of the guilt!
  2. Don’t think about coming back to work. Often people are hesitant to be away because they know they will face the Mount Everest of email when they return. Let me ask you this: When is the last time you came into work and did not feel bombarded by email? I don’t know about you, but I can’t think that far back. Before vacation, I am overwhelmed with email. After vacation, I am overwhelmed with email. Being overwhelmed by email is an everyday occurrence. Don’t let that stop you from enjoying time away – the emails will be there when you get back.
  3. Don’t compare yourself to other people. Are you on track? Are projects moving forward? Do you have manuscripts and grants in the pipeline? Are you having productive mentor-mentee relationships? Are you enjoying what you do? Yes? Great! Don’t worry about what others are doing.
  4. And once again because it is so important – let go of the guilt!

Still not convinced? Why not try it once? Next time you are out of town plan ahead, don’t do any work while you’re away and see what happens. You might find that, like me, you return more energized, creative, efficient and content. Rather than slowing your career momentum, time away can give it a turbo boost!

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