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By Hannah Connolly
t the end of last year more than 19 million days of annual leave were lost by UK employees according to Workplace Insights. So why are we not taking the time that we need?
Firstly, there is the great annual leave myth that in order to make the most of your days off you need to be packing a bag and jumping on a plane to somewhere new. Arguably, in the wake of the staycation boom, packing a bag and jumping on a train may be the more popular choice, but have you considered keeping the bags unpacked and soaking in the joys of staying put?
Another reason tends to be that a lot of us just don’t think we can. What if I miss that email? What if major changes happen whilst I am off? What if…? The point is, those things probably will happen, but it really isn't going to be that big of a deal. You will get back to where you need to be probably within hours of returning and the thing is, work is always going to be there…you don’t always have to be.
Time off is proven to improve your performance. Statistically, coming back refreshed can help avoid big issues like workplace burnout and unmanageable anxiety. You will be better at your job if you allow yourself time to take care of your needs.
Granted, as Christmas approaches you might think why take time off now? Well, Christmas, as great as it is, isn't exactly quality ‘me time’. The festive season comes with obligations, travelling to home towns and in some cases, serious stress. The point of taking time sometimes means time for you to get back in touch with yourself in all the ways that work solely for you. It might sound self-indulgent, but it is important to take your foot off the gas sometimes and opt for the slower approach.
As my week off loomed, I felt an impending sense of doom that I was about to waste my time. But now, fresh from seven days all to myself, staying in London was the best decision I could have made. It is the first time in a year I have actually stopped and allowed myself to fall back in love with the city that I live in.
The point I am trying to make is that you don’t need to know exactly what you are going to do with your time off, you just need to take it. It's imperative to remember you are a person with needs and my needs were to get back in touch with what I love.
“Work is always going to be there…you don’t always have to be”
Home is where the heart is…
With working from home the new normal, or rushing to and from the office for some, your home or your bedroom can sometimes feel like little more than a pit stop. Yet, the importance of feeling safe and relaxed in your own home is insurmountably important for wellbeing.
With a week off, the opportunities are endless. Head to a vintage store and pick up some new bits, buy yourself a new duvet cover or simply have a really good clear out. I opted for minimal effort improvements, swapped out the postcards on my wall, changed the images in my frames and lit some good candles (Benjoin from Diptyque is my current favourite). It is remarkable how much better I feel about my room now, how much more at ease I feel having spent time enjoying my house as a home rather than just a place to sleep between work and social obligations.
Go for a walk…
The biggest takeaway I’ve learnt from a week off is remembering how great it is to walk. Literally wherever you are there are probably aspects of your city or town that you haven't traversed before and even if you have, when was the last time?
I spent most of my days choosing a general direction and then walking whichever way my feet took me. Along the path I found plenty of gems I probably would never have known about.
“It is remarkable how much better I feel about my room now, how much more at ease I feel having spent time enjoying my house as a home rather than just a place to sleep between work and social obligations”
A breath of fresh air
Reconnecting ourselves with the great outdoors is vital, I don't mean you need to start hiking up mountains - unless that's your thing, but simply getting a good breath of fresh air. When we work hard and play hard the amount of time we actually spend outside can become more limited than you realise.
Take a walk to your nearest park, or go urban exploring and take a walk around your town and breathe in some fresh air.
Fall in love with your city again…
Travel to work, go to the same place for lunch, travel home, then sleep. It is very easy to forget the reason you love the city you live in when you are just going through the motions.
So, in my time off I spent valuable time in the areas I love in London, in restaurants and cafes both new and old favorites. Stopped to take pictures and for a week allowed myself to be a tourist to acquaint myself with the reasons for why I moved here in the first place.
Away for the day…
If you are really wanting to get away, opt for a day trip. I went for Brighton for proximity but also for some refreshing scenery. You don’t have to go away for days or weeks to get a fresh outlook and arguably you might feel better rested for a simple day out, ending with getting back in your own bed.
This is also a great opportunity to try a new restaurant, discover new shops or just get out of your routine.
Do the things you keep saying you want to do…
It is easy to let your hobbies or interests slip during the working week, so much so that by the time the weekend rolls around you're too tired to enjoy what you love. Take the time to watch the film you wanted to, read that book or start that class you've always thought about.
A week off provides the opportunity to head to museums, soak up some culture or simply spend some time at home listening to music and getting back in touch with your interests. Indulging this will serve to strengthen you in the workplace as a more rounded person.
Connect with loved ones…
I will be the first to admit I sometimes become so consumed with work that I let my personal relationships slip. So take this time to be more spontaneous and get in some quality time with partners, friends, family and loved ones.
Indulge in the knowledge that the only schedule you need to stick to is your own for this time. So if the night rolls on a little late, or you if naturally wake up earlier, make the most of it.
Most Importantly: Don’t feel guilty
It’s called time off for a reason, you need to clock out. Set those emails to ‘out of office’ and draw some clear boundaries. Of course there are exceptions, but remember, ultimately, time off means time to switch off and actually spend some time enjoying every day.
Taking a week off to reconnect with your home is vital for both mental wellbeing and work performance.
By Hannah Connolly
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