New York City’s financial district remains a bit desolate despite the fact the holidays are technically over. Even my fruit lady decided to extend her vacation through the end of this week. It’s not like she doesn’t deserve it. She and her husband slave away, serving people salads and smoothies from their cramped silver stand in sub-freezing temperatures while their customers enjoy their lunches in warm office buildings. Waiting another few days for a fruit salad won’t kill me. Everyone needs time to themselves. I was never one to use all my vacation—in fact I hoarded it like a hungry squirrel gathering nuts for winter. But for the first time in my life I realize the importance of taking time off. At the end of November, I found myself in a situation in which I would lose my vacation days if I didn’t take them. No rollover! Initially, I freaked out about the prospect of leaving the office for more than a few days, believing something horrible might happen if I didn’t respond to every incoming email within a 24-hour period. Then I smartened up and assessed the circumstances, realizing that a bulk of the people I need to communicate with on a daily basis were taking time off, too. So I capitalized on the opportunity to spend some extra time with my family around the holidays, finished all my shopping on weekdays in less-crowded stores and even took my first snowboarding trip to Vermont with my boyfriend to ring in the new year. My body is physically exhausted from that adventure, but I returned to work yesterday energized and excited to turn on my computer and return to productivity. (Full disclosure: I checked my email often enough to keep the freak-out level at low, but that saved a few hours going through messages on my first day back.) Not everyone has the luxury of taking off during the holidays, and even non-accountants know that taking vacation during certain times of the year will do more harm than good, whether that’s because of impatient clients or piles of paperwork waiting for their return. But I have interviewed several successful executives who list their playtime as part of the reason they are able to achieve so much during the rest of the year because it lets them recharge their engines. Take a look at your freshly opened 2008 calendar early and try planning some future time away that you can get excited about now before wrapping yourself up too tightly in your work during tax season and convincing yourself there’s just no time to play.
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