Why vacations matter for work excellence

Everyone says that vacations refresh. But what do they mean by that? Are vacations just good for the person and the spirit or do they actually improve work? Here, I’ll discuss one point for the latter. It may even apply to those stressful vacations where keeping the family fed and happy seems like more work than non-vacation days.


This is the point where I should vacation rather broadly as anything that gets you into a strongly different mindset for a week or more, though this could be flexible. Another essential feature of a vacation is you don’t keep up with everything flowing in on your email, though you may not necessarily shut it off entirely.  So a vacation could be a trip somewhere, camping, or even a scientific meeting if it is a real break from the normal obligations.

So the last week Dave and I spent at the American Ornithological Society counts as a vacation, though we went to most of the talks and learned a lot. I did check email, but couldn’t figure it out at first, then was in the field, so little got dealt with until today, the day we travel home.

What I found on going through several hundred emails, Facebook posts, and Twitter news was a sudden clarity as to what was important to me. Against this metric I accepted and rejected tasks with an alacrity that I had lost. The longer time you go without a vacation, the more you lose the ability to see what is and is not important to you. It is like a ship encrusting with barnacles and moving ever more slowly. A long time without vacations and you might feel you have no time for even the important things because you are less good at sorting out the unimportant.

Right now I relish a certain clarity and hope I get a lot done before it fades away. I say yes to a lot of tasks, but will also say no to those that are not in my profile. After all, only I know how much is asked of me. Only I know what commitments I can make and what I must reject. With this extra focus, I hope to do the things that are important.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Creativity, efficiency, Travel, Uncategorized, Vacations. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Why vacations matter for work excellence

  1. Spot-on, Joan! Thank you!

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