Workaholics Anonymous—A 12-Step Program of Recovery and Personal Transformation (Step 11)

[Index: INTRO, Step 11b233b4566b7899b1010b1112]

Refueling the jets… Learning to Value Time Off

How does America regain its supremacy in the productive world? How do you improve your personal productivity?

ANSWER: Go on vacation.

438 million. That is the number of vacation days American’s failed to take in 2007 according to Harris Interactive research group. More than any other industrialized nation.

Here is the result: America ranks #1 in depression and mental health problems. Americans are experiencing burnout, reduced productivity, diminished creativity, failed relationships, stress or stress-related ailments such as depression, heart disease or stomach ulcers in record levels.

Our entrenched puritanical conditioning, being valued on how “hard” we work, fear of being replaced or left behind, and our addiction to always being “busy” are actually not only destroying our mental and physical health, but also destroying our creative productivity.

This is especially true in our new global economy where our advantage and future is as knowledge workers, not laborers. Our future, your future lies between your ears – your mind and your ability to think: creatively, innovatively and productively.

When you are working 80 hours a week, your mind gets cluttered and stale. Like a pressure cooker, if you don’t give your mind some time to clear some steam out, it will boil over causing the ailments above and loss of effectiveness and real productivity.

I am not suggesting you need to take a vacation to better “enjoy life,” “find your bliss” or have “life balance.”

I am telling you time off is an important component of hardcore achievement and productivity.

Benefits of taking time off:  

1. Recover – Just like building muscle, after you work it out one of the most important parts of productive muscle building is giving it recovery time. If you don’t give a muscle time to recover you will actually be tearing the muscle down and weakening it.

2. Refuel – Even a machine, an automobile, a jet airplane has to stop – to RE-FUEL.

3. Regain control – I took a weekend-long meditation course once. Francis, the yogi-like instructor, explained how meditation helped build back up our “satua” or ch’i in Chinese philosophy. He explained that satua is the psychic buffer space between cause and reaction. If we don’t have any built up we lose our ability to consider our reactions. We snap, lash out, “go postal” and other forms of overreaction. Again, like the pressure cooker, when we are at full boil, it doesn’t take much for us to blow our lid.

4. Improve Your Mood and Attitude – When we clear the frenetic energy from our minds and bodies it will dramatically improve our mood and attitude. This alone will improve your productive time at the office tenfold.

5. Strength of Presence – If you are working all the time, you are not really present – at home or at the office. Taking the needed time off will help you regain your bearings and allow you to fully be there, wherever that is – at the office or with your family.

Alright, many of us might have already known the above; let me share with you something you don’t know – HOW to do it!

I have known the value of taking time off to refuel and re-energize for a long time now, but I still struggle with it. Why? Look at the headline of this – I am a freaking addict!

To get a handle on this, I first needed to understand the productive benefits of time off to “un-hook” myself from my working = good, not working = slacker conditioning. This dumb and limiting mindset is what causes my always-having-to-be-busy addiction… thus my workaholism… and ultimately my less than optimum productivity.

I then needed to implement taking time-off into my productivity strategy.

Here is how I do it:

1. Reframe it. Every aspect of my psychosis fights against the words “time off”. I know, sick-o, but it is what it is. So I call my “time off” Rejuvenation Time. That sounds more purposeful, more productive, thus more worthwhile. Self mental manipulation? You bet!

2. Schedule it. What gets scheduled gets done. Just like any other critical appointments, you have to plant your time-off flag on your calendar. Now defend it like you would a meeting with the Queen (or Oprah, whatever works for you!); it is an unmovable appointment. And also, like during a meeting with the Queen, get completely off the grid – turn your e-mail, crackberries off and block out all other interruptions – you are with the Queen for cryin’ out loud (aka wife, kids, friends, self)!

3. Declare it. Don’t feel guilty, thus try and do it in secret. It will be far more productive if you:

a) Lead by example and show others how to make rejuvenation part of productive priority, and

b) Set expectations and communicate your schedule. You will be amazed how the world will reorganize itself around your time-off spaces – whether for two hours or two weeks.

4. Measure it. Keep score. What gets measured gets improved. You measure your sales calls, transactions, revenue, cost per acquisition, etc. (you do, don’t you?!). This is an equally important, probably more important measure. Measure the number of times you get home in time to eat with the family, run on the beach, take a nap, meditate, read pages of a good book, watch movies, nights in the hot tub, rounds of golf, number of ski days, etc.

Make time off or “Rejuvenation Time” one of your crucial, non-compromised, devoted productive priorities.

CAUTIONARY TIP: If your free time is boring, your addiction will get the best of you and you will start working. Why? Because working is more fun than your free time. Trust me I know. You will be like a new nonsmoker caught in a room full of smokers puffing away and drinking coffee.

It is crucial that you have your time off filled with fun and exhilarating plans and activities. You won’t be able to go from workaholic guy/gal to one sitting in a lotus position breathing “OM” right away. You are going to have to start with alternative activities that fully engage your mind, and maybe body, to keep yourself from getting “sucked back in” to working.

Geoff Godbey, Professor of Leisure Studies at Penn State University, says it this way: “To be most satisfying, leisure should resemble the best aspects of work: challenges, skills and important relationships.”

Here is how I schedule my rejuvenation time:

  • At least one two-week vacation, ideally international
  • A three-day getaway out of town each quarter
  • Every Saturday
  • One to two hours each day to run, work out and sit quietly
  • At least two hours each night off the grid and with the family

I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it is 400X more than it used to be and my goal is one of constant, never-ending improvement in this category. I will testify that this has made an incredible difference in my creative capacity, focus, effectiveness and productivity.

In the comments below, tell us what keeps you from staying committed to your time off and how you are going to overcome this going forward. Declare to all of us what your new rejuvenation plan is!

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  1. 移動電源 says:

    I wonder to what extent the results would differ if you aggregated spelling and other name variants. Anecdotally, there seems to be a recent trend of giving kids names that sound like more-or-less traditional names but are spelled unusually (notable celebrity examples would include Dwyane Wade and Britney Spears).

  2. You can do both, one does not keep you from being effective at the other. As you gain more muscle weight you will not be as efficient at running, because you are carrying the extra weight. So just do what you have been doing, knowing that as you put on the muscles you are working a lot harder at the running.

  3. Warren Pultz says:

    Possibly alcohol use is more likely to impair the functioning of jobs had by the highly learned than by the less highly educated? As a result, equivalent alcohol intake among individuals of various educational accomplishment might result in uneven “alcohol-related problems.”

  4. I am grateful for the post.

  5. Improved sleep says:

    For me, a great exercise and fitness program consisting of weight lifting and cardio routines leave me feeling great, with reduced stress levels. I never feel better than after a strenuous workout at the gym. Endorphins or “feel good” chemicals in your brain are released in the body in substantial quantities by exercise.

  6. Elda Titus says:

    Wow! I’ve heard it said to refill ones cup so you have more to give. Great article.. just need to apply it.. I’m a workaholic also:-)

  7. Bennie says:

    Nothing new. Exodus 20:8

    “it is ordained in the very fabric of creation that the world is not a place of endless productivity, ambition, or anxiety.”

    - Walter Brueggemann

  8. Beth says:

    Add simple things to your way of life and it will never be the same. Take time to walk, especially in nature, to cherish your relationships with your family and friends, to eat home-cooked meals at the dinner table, take long baths in scented water, to pick wildflower bouqets, play board games, or choose from numerous other possibilities.

    Watch less tv and movies- particularly violent ones, stop reading all the negative news, eating so much fast food, etc. Instead start becoming more of a giver and a positive person. Smile at people, genuinely laugh, hug your spouse, and look for little ways to improve the world or just some small part of it.

    I can guarantee if you take my advice your life will magically transform in just days! You will still have “challenges,” we all do, but the way you react to them will make all the difference. Remember to use all of your senses, skills, and talents. That also will enhance your life.

  9. Dad says:

    Darren: Those ARE your feet in that picture, are they not?

  10. Gary Hussell says:

    Darren, I appreciate your absolute honesty!! “Self mental manipulation”!!!! I thought I was the only sick-o who did that!! I was going to sacrifice my second week of vacation this year but you have shown me the light!!

  11. Anne Wayman says:

    Three or four or more weeks of time off is great… I once sailed in the south pacific for 5 month and came home a different person, a better person.

    I’ve also found that taking even three days off, not going anywhere, but hanging out at home, really helps sometimes.

    Anne Wayman, now blogging at

  12. MusicBox says:

    Interesting. But what sign on novelties of the news?

  13. FoxJudsf says:

    Good, interesting article, but where took information?

  14. Cletus Coffey says:

    The root of recreation is “recreate” I love going on vacation to re-create myself often. I am always changing and growing. To not take time off is asking to stay the same. If we are not growing we are dying. Thanks for pushing America to get out a re-create themselves.

    Cletus Coffey

  15. Joshua -- says:

    Great to read the statistic about vacation days not taken, that puts things in perspective, and the point about replenishing chi. And who knew there was a department of leisure studies?! If we put the same discipline into fun we put into productivity, we can have enormously wonderful lives. Thanks for posting this.

  16. Chris M says:

    I highly recommend taking 3 weeks off. I built my business to have a total of 7 months off a year. That includes weekends and actual vacation time. Your body gets used to 2 weeks and the first time you take 3 weeks you’ll be amazed at the automatic responses your body has at 10 days and 12 days. I know 3 weeks sounds like a pipe dream to many but your statement of “You will be amazed how the world will reorganize itself around your time-off spaces – whether for two hours or two weeks.” is the absolute truth, now just make it 3 weeks.

    Thank you for your great insights.

    Chris M.
    Livermore, CA

  1. [...] [Index: INTRO, Step 1, 1b, 2, 3, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 6b, 7, 8, 9, 9b, 10, 10b, 11, 12] [...]

  2. Cars Seized says:

    Cars Seized…

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  4. [...] have the same “guilt” pangs we might experience when we aren’t working. As I have written many times before, culturally, we have nearly obliterated the line between work and personal life in America. The [...]

  5. [...] have the same “guilt” pangs we might experience when we aren’t working. As I have written many times before, culturally, we have nearly obliterated the line between work and personal life in America. The [...]

  6. [...] that end I am practicing Step 11 of the Workaholics Anonymous program this week. Give that step a review, it’s a good one: [...]

  7. [...] [Index: INTRO, Step 1, 1b, 2, 3, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 6b, 7, 8, 9, 9b, 10, 10b, 11, 12] [...]

  8. [...] Index: INTRO, Step 1, 1b, 2, 3, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 6b, 7, 8, 9, 9b, 10, 10b, 11, 12 [...]

  9. [...] Index: INTRO, Step 1, 1b, 2, 3, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 6b, 7, 8, 9, 9b, 10, 10b, 11, 12 [...]

  10. [...] They do value time off (see Learning to Value Time Off post), BUT as a necessity for greater productivity, not for time-off sake’s. This is a [...]

  11. [...] They do value time off (see Learning to Value Time Off post), BUT as a necessity for greater productivity, not for time-off sake’s. This is a [...]