As a recovering workaholic, I strive regularly to integrate life and career to honor my personal relationships and my professional ambition. The pattern resembles a roller coaster with ups and downs of activity and never a steady balance. This reality check has allowed me to navigate the ultra-busy career times and offset them with precious down time for me.

I’ll admit that in previous years, I have not taken all of my accrued vacation time. Shame on me! This is not a badge of honor but the badge of a loser giving away precious time I earned as part of the benefits package for my job.

Sadly, I’m not alone. Most adults are overworked and overwhelmed but the counterintuitive reality is that they are not taking all the paid time off they’ve earned.

According to Project: Time Off

“After years of being asked to ‘do more with less’ workers are overstretched, stressed out, and exhausted. The always-on, 24/7 American work culture is taking a heavy toll, leading to 429 million wasted vacation days that undermine our personal, business, and economic well-being. Simply put, taking earned time off is essential for a productive workforce, strong bonds with family and friends, and a fulfilled life.”

Salary.com concurs that taking time off will actually help you be more productive and healthy in life and career.

The Difference between Workaholics and High Performers

There are healthier ways for you to work without sacrificing your professional values, relationships, or the expertise you provide to your organization. There is a cultural misconception that you must be a workaholic to achieve high performance. Workaholism is the only addiction we celebrate. It’s time to make a dramatic shift because this is not sustainable and doesn’t ensure productivity.

High performance and workaholism look the same on the outside. They both look like hard work. The difference is how the individual feels on the inside about who they are in relationship to their work.

A high performer works hard in healthy sustainable ways and feels happy and inspired. A workaholic works hard in unhealthy unsustainable ways and feels unhappy and burned out.

You have a choice. I’ve switched to being high performer. The debilitating overworked culture will change by those who set a good example. I hope you’ll join me in being a role model.

Be the Leader Who Sets a Good Example

If you supervise others in your work environment understand that your behavior sets an example for your colleagues. If you honor your vacation time then your co-workers will follow suit and take what’s owed to them without guilt or concern. Lead by example and really unplug during your time away.

Vacation should not just mean a change of scenery to do your work in an alternative location.

My boss recently shared that his time away during an atypical time of the year would allow him a chance to refresh and revitalize. He promised to come back focused and ready to go with a renewed sense of purpose. He did just that and his time away inspired others to take time off when they needed it, not just during the traditional holiday or summer vacation season. His time away was a win-win for the organizational culture.

Parents Need Kid-Free Time

While a vacation without your kids may not be desirable, a break from the daily routine can do wonders for parents who work. Think creatively about ways to connect with your spouse or partner like a breakfast date or happy hour cocktail before daycare closes so you can honor adult time that re-energizes you.

Get a Slimmer Waist and a Healthier Heart from Time Away from Work

While taking a break from work is meant to be relaxing, what you may not know is that those who spend more time engaged in pleasurable leisure activities, including vacation time actually boast a healthier physique. The University of Pittsburgh conducted a study that showed people who logged more down time from work had a lower Body Mass Index and healthier waist circumference – two key predictors of overall good health.

A host of studies have highlighted the potential cardiovascular-health benefits of taking a vacation, including: reducing the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, decreased depression, and less stress.

Do Something to Recharge Regularly

Non-American work cultures celebrate wellness days to take time away from work and focus on health and wellbeing. Americans need to catch up on this pro-active investment in health. From wellness practices to a hike in the woods, or simple down time to catch up on your favorite non-work related reading – do something just for you on a regular basis and reap the health benefits.

I schedule regular reflexology sessions to keep my body aligned and relaxed and I see this as an essential part of my wellness routine. A non-weekend day of rest every now and then can also do wonders to help your body rest and rejuvenate. 

Ponder Your Dreams

Ever feel like you are so busy working that you forgot what excites you and makes you fulfilled. Take a PTO day to dream BIG and consider what you need and want in your life and career. Structured down time to consider the possibilities will allow you to appreciate what you have and also plan for what you want down the road. Time to honor your dreams and create an action plan to make them happen.

Plan Ahead

Instead of being a work martyr, look ahead and consider how you utilize your precious PTO over the next 12 months. Block off single days for wellness breaks in addition to longer term chunks of time for vacations on your calendar now. Don’t be a vacation loser and leave this well-earned benefit unused in a given work year. Paid time off is a precious benefit and was put in place to help you live a healthier life. It’s up to you to take advantage of this resource and honor yourself in the process.