When I packed to go to my family’s summer home for vacation this year, I made sure to download some books in preparation. I reviewed the “summer reading lists” from people I respect, and chose several titles that looked interesting and valuable.
I imagined myself in a hammock outside the little fisherman’s shack by the water, relaxing and being productive all at the same time. Filling my mind with good, useful material, even as my body enjoyed the silence and the shade of my favorite tree.
But when I got there, that’s not what happened. I didn’t take advantage of the uninterrupted time to improve my knowledge or expand my awareness of the latest thinking in my field. In fact, I barely opened a book all summer.
Instead, I golfed. I played games with my kids. I had long breakfasts and conversations with my wife. I lay in that hammock and stared up at the apple trees and the sky, feeling peaceful.
It was the most relaxing vacation I can remember, and I have no regrets. Here’s why.
At first, I felt guilty about not reading a single thing. I had weeks and weeks stretching out ahead of me (in Sweden, we take vacation seriously), and it seemed an opportune time to “make the most of it” by gaining new knowledge, as I have done in the past.
But the more I played, relaxed, and did absolutely “nothing,” the more my guilt melted away, replaced by something else. In Sweden, we do take our vacations seriously, but that doesn’t mean we’re not influenced by the work ethic of other cultures, or that we're immune to the new digital “always-on” attitudes.
As I relaxed into my summer, I began to realize that this need to read something and improve myself was part of a driven mindset that isn’t actually productive. I felt guilty for not reading, because I was feeling guilty for taking time off.
But the reality is that time off is exactly what we need in order to be happier, healthier, and more productive.
This Harvard Business Review article cites these key benefits of taking time off to do nothing at all:
I once attended a lecture by John Cleese, who explained that he would do a deep dive into a topic he was interested in, and then he would lock himself in a room for an extended period with no phone and no books - just himself and his brain. And that’s where his best ideas came from.
As the summer progressed and I let go of my guilt around doing nothing, I felt myself relax into a place of greater clarity and focus. I became clear about what I love, what I appreciate, and what makes me happy. And when I came back to work, I realized I was clearer about my goals and mission here, as well.
It might be lazy if the only thing you ever do is nothing. But our bodies and minds thrive on a combination of activity followed by rest.
Biologically, we’re wired to work hard and rest hard. This is evident in our day/night sleep cycles, as well as the way that our ancestors would work hard during the summer and then rest in the winter.
In Sweden, we do it the other way around. Our winters are hard and brutal, so we like to enjoy our summers.
There’s nothing wrong with picking up a good book and having a summer reading list if you enjoy that. I read a lot and I find that my life is continually richer for it. But, every once in a while, it’s a good idea to completely unplug and let your brain completely rest, free from the need to absorb more information.
So, in the spirit of that, rather than giving you more words to read today, please enjoy these peaceful photos from my summer vacation.
George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.
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