Make the Most of Your Time Off

By Beth Morrow

You're ready, aren't you?

Let's be honest: you've been ready. Maybe since Thanksgiving, maybe even Halloween. For some, the days on the calendar have been ticked off with a red felt-tipped pen since the last day of your final camp session.

However long you’ve waited, you are good and ready to get out of the rat race for some much-needed R&R time. Between planning, projects and meetings, we tend to lose track of time--and sometimes ourselves. We spend time daydreaming about our break, but when it arrives, we often live it in the same minute-to-minute rush that makes up our work days.

The good news is that we have the power to change. By thinking in advance, we can figure out what it is that we truly want--and how we can go about getting it. Incorporate one, some or all of these actions in your time away and come back refreshed with memories of what was in your time away, not regrets for what you wanted.

1. Set an Intention for Your Time Off
It doesn't have to be fancy or even written, but it does need to be all yours. Intentions--a mental statement or thought about how you intend to act--are a well-known way to help you tailor your actions to work toward a goal. You can set a large intention for the duration of your time off, such as "I want time away that is restful, energizing and positive," one that is situational-specific, like "My intention for my family's Christmas dinner is to maintain peace," or even one that you set on a daily basis each morning before rising, to meet whatever challenges or expectations you know the day will hold. The beauty of intentions is that while they may feel odd at first, eventually you'll find your thoughts pulling you back to start truly embodying your intention.

Think intention is a bunch of fluff? Check out these articles on Oprah.com, The Huffington Post and Chopra.com. When you're ready, a couple of good places to guide you in intention setting can be found at Zigizen, Very Smart Girls and Silent Journey.

2. Choose A Theme That Resonates With You and Schedule Accordingly
Too often, we rush out of the office and into a whirlwind of activity, shopping, traveling and eating out of habit. We may have thought in November or even early December how much we want to enjoy our time away by being with others, immersing ourselves in the magic of the holidays, or by making a difference, yet we bop from day to day without honoring that wish through our actions.

And it leaves us hollow come January when we likely won’t see time off until after another busy camping season. Instead of doing what you've always done, spend some time reflecting to figure out what it is that you want most out of this time off. Then find ways in your days to do just that. Sure, we all have family and other obligations that can't be eliminated, but we don't have to allow those moments to suck up the bulk of our time. If you love the festive nature of December, schedule a time to do something that fills your heart, whether it's visiting a local attraction for the Christmas lights or taking a child to see Santa. If giving is what you want, call a soup kitchen or homeless shelter now to see how you can help. And if deep cleaning your house so that you can come home after long days at the office is your thing (don't judge--the peace of mind after a marathon day of meetings or late-night planning is worth its weight in gold!), then inform your family of your goal and refuse to schedule anything on the days that you want to clean.

Time is what you make of it. If you let it slip by without doing the things that fulfill your heart, you may never have that second chance.

3. Eliminate, Shorten or Alter the Events You Dislike Most
Although it sounds something of Scrooge, there are pieces and parts of the holiday season that not everyone embraces. Maybe the staff party has run its course with you, or you're just not into swapping expensive gifts with that certain someone. Many of us who enjoy baking for others struggle to balance our need to make for others yet try to maintain our healthy resolve when faced with so many sweets. Or you might possibly be stuck in the cycle of always going to [insert unhappy place here] when you'd rather just spend that time alone or with folks of your own choosing.

Forcing yourself to do things you dislike out of a sense of obligation, expectation and good old peer pressure, especially when the dislike is internalized and not shared with a supportive person, is a guaranteed recipe for a vacation you hate. While there may be no tactful way of getting out of traveling to your inlaws' or avoiding awkward gatherings, maybe there's a way to take a little time away for yourself to save your sanity.

And if you feel you need the permission of someone else to take control of your own life's activities, consider it granted. I give you permission to make the choices that mean the most to you :-)

4. Start Planning Your New Year Now
Let's clarify: we're not talking resolutions or business plans. We're talking the things you want to carry forward and focus on when you're back in the office. So often, the open mental space of days off inspires us to try a new method, management or strategy when we get back to the grind, but we follow it with that elusive 'sometime'. Don't wait to start brainstorming plans--get out your notebook and start jotting down specifics. Do it now while the idea is fresh and alive. The daily routine more often than not sabotages even our most promising ideas, so have a little mental fun when the space and serenity is yours for the taking.

5. Begin With The End In Mind
When you're heading to bed on that last night of vacation, what emotion do you want to be feeling as you slip under the covers? Completion, connection, peace, health, happiness? It's your life, and it can be as meaningful as the choices you make. The culmination of your break isn't usually the result of big, fabulous, over-the-top activities, but the daily routines and habits you develop in pursuit of that feeling. In other words, the actions you take each day to make are what make the difference in how you think, feel and perceive your life.

Since time away from the office releases us from the crush of daily must-dos, why not consider adding a new habit to your everyday routine that aligns with the outcome you envision? Start each day with a cup of coffee and journaling. Move your body on a walk in nature. Call your parents, siblings, a friend or mentor. List five things each day you are grateful for. Plan healthy lunches. Something, anything to jumpstart your actions in the direction of your dreams is often the difference between feeling successful or not.

Curious about the process of building habits that don't end when back-to-work starts? Try this piece at Lifehack, a how-to at Tiny Buddha and The Change Blog's look at trying to implement 24 Daily Habits.

If you want to go out and grab that time away, you can't wait for someone to hand it to you on a platter. You have to breathe it into life, dig in with both hands, get dirty and create it from the place where it matters most: deep inside of you.

Because, let's face it, there will be plenty of obstacles in your course--people with expectations, events that demand attention, traditions blindly begging your presence over a number of years. You can't just clock out, hop in your car and hope you get some time alone. You have to make it, create it and nurture it in the way that supports you, because there's a big, fat, new year waiting for you when you return.

If you don't take the time to create the time off you envision, others will be more than happy to monopolize you in a way that suits them--and many of us feel a passion to serve others, we're not nearly as valuable to others when we don't serve ourselves first.

Beth Morrow is an educator, blogger and senior week program director for Camp Hamwi, a week-long residential program for youth with diabetes. Connect with her on Twitter: @BethFMorrow.