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Why It's Important to Take Vacation Days, and How to Do It

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Americans are horrible at the art of vacation. In 2017 they took 17 days off per year (on average), which is actually higher than any time in the recent past. However, not all those days were used for vacation, and more than half of U.S. workers regularly leave a week of unused days on the table each year. Here's why that matters and why you should be just as good at scheduling vacations as you are at putting meeting invites on the calendar.

Vacation increases productivity

All that sitting on the beach, eating handmade Italian pasta, or zip lining through the Amazon is good for us personally and professionally. Too much work and too little time away leads to burnout. The symptoms can include physical side effects and disengagement from work projects and long-term goals. Basically, the more you work, the worse you become at your job. Research shows that those who take proper time away come back with more energy and focus, all of which leads to increased productivity.

Time away from the office reduces stress

While it may seem obvious, the majority of Americans aren't following doctors' orders. Studies found that stress reduction is one of the biggest benefits of taking time off. It doesn't seem to matter if you travel across the globe or opt for a closer retreat, but it does matter that you unplug. The biggest benefits come when you don't check email or dial into conference calls on your days off.

Travel reduces your chance of a heart attack

You read that right. Frequent and active vacations, especially for an older population, lowers the risk of heart attack and depression. Health professionals speculate that lowered stress and physical activity of travel, like those who go on city walking tours or hikes, benefit the heart. In addition, similar studies have shown that problem solving and experiencing new situations associated with travel increase brain health and mental resilience.

How to take time off

Even if you don't work for an organization that proactively encourages vacation, there are still ways to successfully leave work at the office while you're away. Career experts advise to plan in advance, giving your boss and colleagues as much notice as possible. This will help ensure proper staffing and less stress for the co-workers who must take up some of your duties while your away. For the highest likelihood of getting time-off approved, try to schedule around peak times for the business, and be sure that all your paperwork, including a copy to HR, is submitted through the proper channels.

There's also the school of thought that encourages more frequent smaller trips peppered throughout the year versus taking a big bucket-list trip once a year. Why? Unfortunately, our brains can't really differentiate between the two. Small pleasures experienced frequently leave us in a happier mental state.