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Henry Ford influenced American business in many innovative ways, including his signature assembly line manufacturing. But one contribution that we often forget is the concept of the 40-hour workweek. Ford discovered that worker productivity took a major nose-dive after his employees worked eight hours each day, so he set out to change the workday standard for every American.

Fast-forward to nearly a century later, and we are still grappling with the best ways to optimize our workday. Henry Ford’s assembly line endures, but his eight-hour day? Not so much.

Which is exactly why I am a firm believer in vacation.

As the CEO and founder of The Northridge Group, I can relate all too well to the difficulty of stepping away from the company for an extended period of time – it’s difficult enough just unplugging from my smartphone long enough to sleep each night! But, the restorative and re-energizing effects of vacations allow me to bring my best innovation and refocused leadership back to the company time and time again.

Here are a few of the things I’ve learned over the years that allow me to glean the most value – personally and professionally – from a little R&R:

  • Get out of town. There is something about physically removing ourselves from our everyday surroundings that allows us the space we need to restore and refresh ourselves. Going away not only opens our eyes to new cultures and experiences but also removes distractions and creates boundaries for work disruptions.
  • Unplug. While I cannot always do it, I really try to unplug when I’m on vacation so that I can take a break from the 24/7 flow of business information and conversation. This affords me more thinking time…and a little rest.  Besides, my laptop, phone, and tablet deserve a break, too!
  • Make a plan and leave for at least a week. It may be difficult to disengage for a week, but I find that I really do need that amount of time to first disengage from the rhythm of work life and then restore. For me – the fun starts before I even leave town. A study in the Dutch journal Research and Quality of Life reports that the largest boost in happiness comes from planning vacation and the anticipation leading up to it. No surprise that the same would hold true for business people pulling together a vacation. At work or play, we always do better with a plan!
  • Take the opportunity to reflect. So much of my workday is spent absorbing research, listening, learning, talking and problem-solving. All good. But there is less time to foster innovation when my day is devoted to creating solutions. Thinking takes time, so I love to use some of the extra time I have on vacation to let my mind take a walk. I almost always experience more clarity and perspective when I return.
  • Reconnect with loved ones. Work takes up a majority of our waking hours on the majority of our days. So when we have an opportunity to get away, refuel and refocus our attention on the people who mean the most to us…well, why wouldn’t we?
  • Trust the team.  Of the 365 days each year, let’s say I take 20-25 days of vacation. The rest of the year, I’m working shoulder-to-shoulder with my team, heralding their depth of experience, commitment to excellence and collaborative spirit to our clients. So as I prepare to leave for a week or so, I remind myself of that. I feel the peace of mind necessary to truly unwind on vacation.