If you use your vacation time to work, what is the point of the vacation?

Most physicians, including me, would fall into the category of type A personalities, always on the go with a constant need to be productive. We cram every minute of the day with productivity and leave little time in our schedule for fun and recreation. Even type A personalities need a break from working to recharge their personal batteries. How often have you been packing for a vacation and included work to do while you were gone? You knew you would have plenty of free time while on vacation and might as well get some of the work done you have been putting off. This is a bad habit to develop.

The long hours we work need to be balanced with some rest time for recuperation.  If we don’t get this time off to rest and recover, we run the risk of burning out. Even though I have been an advocate for physicians to take ample vacation time, I often find myself packing work to do during vacations.

I stopped myself at the last minute recently when I realized I was doing it again before my trip to Hawaii. I intended to do some blog posts and video posts while I was vacationing as well as edit my third book. When I realized the error of my ways, I eliminated those items from my suitcase so I could vacation on my vacation. (I need to remember to practice what I preach.) My business could weather two weeks of no activity on my blog.

There are so many things on most of our plates, our self-imposed to-do list, that we can’t get them all done during working hours. So we are tempted to work them in during our vacation as we assume we will have plenty of down time. Vacation isn’t free time to be filled with work.  It isn’t free time at all. It is important time that is being used to recharge your personal batteries.

But if you use your vacation time to work, what is the point of the vacation? Do you really need to polish your paper on the effects of that new drug you are studying? Do you really need to catch up on your CME paperwork? Do you really need to get that blog article written right now? Does that stack of periodicals at the end of your desk need to be finished this week?

If it has waited this long, it can wait until the end of your vacation. You must remember, you will never be caught up, the state of caught up doesn’t exist. Those few extra hours will not get you caught up. If you find yourself with this dilemma, schedule a day during the work week to catch up on work-related activities. Don’t do them during your vacation.

I learned when I retired from my full-time practice and started working part time, that I still couldn’t catch up. There is no amount of time you could take off that would allow you to catch up with everything. So don’t try. There will always be something else you feel you need to do. Prioritize things, so the important things get done, and the unimportant things get left out. If I couldn’t catch up when I went to part time, you can’t do it during your vacation. Since you will never catch up anyway, enjoy your vacation and return to working when you get home. Hit the pause button on work and go have some fun.

Your family is looking forward to spending time with you. Now is the time to give uninterrupted attention to your spouse and your children. When your child says “let’s go swimming” and you say “in a little while, let me finish this article first,” which is the answer they get at home, they were hoping for a “yes, let’s go swimming” from you this time. Don’t forget it’s their vacation too. Don’t blow their vacation with your attempt to catch up on work. Even when you decide to take a vacation at home, a staycation, the same rules apply, no work allowed.

Physician burnout and suicide are all over the news. We need to do everything we can to combat these issues, so you or I don’t become the next statistic. We live a tough life at home, don’t bring that tough life along on vacation. My dad once told me to “never do yard work when you are on vacation.  The yard will keep, but your vacation will be over before you know it.” Your kids will be gone before you know it and these moments are the ones they will remember for the rest of their lives. I experienced several deaths in my family recently which reminded me that life is too short. Make good memories while you can, and don’t forget to be on vacation when you go on vacation.

Cory Fawcett is a general surgeon and can be reached at his self-titled site, Dr. Cory S. Fawcett.  He is the author of The Doctors Guide to Starting Your Practice Right.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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