More often than I would have thought, I feel compelled to "prescribe" a vacation for a client. It seems that many hard-working, industrious types have a difficult time acknowledging that they need a break from work. This is especially true of small business owners, whose personal contributions are usually critical to their company's daily operations. Yet, no matter how central a person is to an organization, it is imperative that he or she recognizes the benefits of taking time off. Taking a vacation is important for a number of reasons.

The first is health. Working full-time is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. We often don't realize how fatigued we are, so we just keep going. With cell phones, email and other technology advances, the pace of work has dramatically escalated. Workplace stress is commonplace, and unrelieved stress can lead to burn-out. Jobs that involve travel or commuting add an additional fatigue factor. Vacations can be an important opportunity for rest and renewal.

Second, the research on creativity is unequivocal. In order to be our most creative, the human brain has to be rested. One of the ways to give our workday brains a rest is to let them go "off duty" with a literal change of scenery. Experiencing new places, people and things is like a battery recharge for our brains. "Play" activities that call on non-rational brain functions are a wonderful source of renewal. Play for adults can be anything from traveling to reading a good book—whatever comprises your idea of fun.

Creativity is enhanced when our brains are not pre-occupied with problem-solving and decision-making, the typical activities of an average workday. We are much more likely to have that breakthrough brainstorm when our minds are "off-duty." That's why so many people report that their great idea came to them "in the shower." Taking a vacation is an opportunity to put our minds into neutral and let creative thoughts bubble up to the surface.

Third, if we work in an organization, it's important to figure out how to get the work done when a key person is absent. Ideally, no organization should be so dependent on any individual that the essential work of the enterprise couldn't go on without them. Duties and responsibilities need to be understood and shared so that a co-worker could step in to perform critical tasks if needed. It means sharing knowledge, expertise, and authority. I have seen many examples of the lasting benefits that result from planning for someone's leave or vacation. Issues are anticipated, contingency plans are made, and leadership and authority are clarified. All of these efforts raise the overall effectiveness of the organization, as well as provide a preparedness safety net.

A fourth reason for leaders to take vacations is that we come back with fresh eyes. When we're immersed in the day-to-day throes of the business, it's difficult to step back and be objective. Taking time off and getting away from work for a significant period of time allows us to come back with a more detached point of view. From this place of greater objectivity, we can more readily see what's working and what isn't. We can see new opportunities, an improvement that needs to be made, or find a new solution to an old problem.

For truly progressive organizations, a sabbatical or leave of absence program can further extend the value of time away from work. Not every organization is in a position to do this, but the significant benefits to both the individual and the company can be worth the scheduling and management challenges.

In his classic book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey's seventh habit is called "sharpening the saw." Covey uses the analogy of a woodcutter sawing a log to point out what a difference it makes to use a saw that is sharp rather than dull and rusty.  If you are feeling dull and rusty, perhaps all the sharpening you need can be found in a vacation.


Mary Luttrell is a business strategy advisor who has helped hundreds of companies simplify complexity and turn challenges into opportunities. A specialist in strategic planning, marketing, organizational performance, meeting and retreat facilitation, and executive/leadership coaching, Ms. Luttrell is an ISO-Certified Management Consultant whose firm has been named one of the 100 Leading Management Consulting Firms in North America. Contact Mary at 707-887-2256 or thecoach@sonic.net. To download her whitepapers or subscribe to her weekly leadership blog, visit her website at www.maryluttrell.com.