Productivity and Vacations


Have you ever gone on a vacation only to come back feeling more tired than before you left? It’s not a good feeling to need a vacation from the vacation, but many of us have experienced that kind of let-down.

The secret to overcoming this feeling is planning some good, productive blocks of “work time” into your restful vacation.

No, I am not a workaholic. The key difference is that the work you do on vacation needs to be the kind of work that brings you energy… not the kind of work that tethers you to your cell phone or PDA.

While people not interested in lifestyle design may dismiss this idea offhand, I suspect that many AONC readers will not find the combination of vacations and productivity to be strange at all. The goal of most vacations is to relax, but we often go about it the wrong way. We binge on relaxation the same way we binge on work. It feels good the first day, but by the third day, you may have the same burned-out feeling you get from working too much.

Without a clear set of goals for your vacation, you may not come back feeling relaxed.

That’s why I follow a process of goal-setting and GTD for vacations that is fairly similar to what I use for the work-week. The projects on the list are much different than work-week projects, but the system is the same.

At the start of any vacation, I set a few goals for myself — usually just two or three big ones, along with a few small ones such as journaling every day. If you adopt this system, you should set goals that make sense for you, but feel free to steal some of my ideas if you’d like.

Here’s a Few Ideas

Complete a bigger “weekly review” than usual. This could be a quarterly or yearly review. For several years now, I have completed a full annual review each December while on vacation. It is the most important thing I do that week, and I plan everything else around it.

Later this year, I’ll explain more about that process in real time — but for now, you can create your own review by looking at the major aspects of your life and planning anything you want to change. There are also many good books that can help with this – two of my favorites are Wishcraft and Finding Your Own North Star.

Work on one or more writing projects. The good thing about being a writer is that I can work anywhere. I don’t even need a laptop all the time (although I do usually take one with me) because I do a lot of my initial work in a paper notebook before transferring it to computer. But even if you’re not a writer by profession, chances are you have some writing projects to work on, and these are usually a good fit for a relaxing week. You’ll likely find you get a lot more done without interruption, and the work is usually free of the stress that comes with being online or in an office all the time.

Exercise Goals. I try to eat sensibly wherever I go, but I do usually end up eating a bit more while on a real vacation. That’s why I always make sure to set some simple goals of exercise during the week, which also helps maintain my regular habits of taking care of myself. I like to run, so my exercise goals usually revolve around that, but depending on where you are vacationing, you may also be able to swim, bike, or just take long walks.

Live from Alaska

By the way, I wrote the notes for this short essay in June while on vacation myself, from a cruise ship on the Alaskan inside passage. And in between all those big dinners and bread pudding desserts, I set aside a morning to run a full marathon (26.2 miles) while on the open sea. You can read the whole story here, but the short version is that it was an intense, crazy experience that I probably wouldn’t repeat, but I’m tremendously glad that I did it.

I knew I would have a good story to tell, and I enjoyed the bread pudding a lot more afterwards. Then, I went back to my room and did some more writing.



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  • Linnea says:

    Awesome post. I just returned from a weeklong vacation. I spent a little time each evening writing out what I wanted from life. Not a full-blown GTD review (I’ll try that next time, though), but a short journal entry with a little more purpose than usual. It worked out just as you described: I came back re-enrgized and ready to tackle my first goal. Thanks again.


  • Chris says:


    Thanks – and good luck with your transition from accountant to writer!

  • Nathan says:

    Good post. I just had a vacation before I deployed and although emotions kept me from being too productive, I did experience the need to work on things I normally don’t have time for in order to be productive and not get bored. In my opinion, it is much easier to write in a foreign place because of new sensory experiences and feelings. It is easy to get caught in the grind at home.

  • Valeria Maltoni says:

    It is useful to take stock of where we are and think about where we want to go next during a break. I call it recalibration. Whether a few tweaks or a major upgrade are in store, setting aside the time to work on one self (through projects and reflection) is a good investment. It is indeed an energizing endeavor.

  • Chris Nakafevo says:

    If you like what you do you’re always on vacation….

    I was thinking about a favourite singer of mine, who tends to be very lyrical, definitely very poetic and he’s album is coming out quite soon and all work is done, so I was thinking maybe he’d go on a vacation for a month. But, he wouldn’t stop thinking about lyrics, beats, bars, drums, bass….in his blog he basically says he’s been breathing music everyday 24/7 365 for as long as he remembers.

  • Nomadic Matt says:

    I bring my work with me. It’s hard not to when your work is on the web and it requires constant attention. I try to get a good balance going but I have yet to find it. Hence on my last trip, my work suffered.

  • Karen says:

    Great post – in the past I have found this difficult to balance. Once I quit the corporate job and started doing work that really feeds me and makes my happy, it is easy to spend a little bit of time “working” on my vacations. In fact, I usually feel really inspired on vacation.

  • Saravanan says:

    Hi Chris,

    I have a question: I do “sometimes” routine boring work in my full time job, I make attempts to make it interesting as much as possible. But it does kill me with boredom. Should I just go for a vacation and be back or what better could be done in such a situation?

  • Chris says:


    I’m sure the others will have some ideas, but I’d say that if the work is boring or routine, I wouldn’t bring that kind of work with me. I’d find something else to do, or else just have the vacation as you say and then go back to the routine.

  • Andrea says:

    Hi Chris

    I have just returned from a short trip to Rome. It was absolutely beautiful, but at the end of every day I was so eager to start sorting, editing, organizing my photographs, that I just wanted to take time out of my holiday to do that.

    Last year I discovered that my biggest passion in life is photography. That is what I want to be my ‘work’ one day, but to actually want to give up part of the holiday to do the ‘work’ is an indicator that I am on the right path.

    Great post Chris, just working through the backlog of your blog and started following ou on Twitter!
    Looking forward to reading more.


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  • run 3 says:

    There is a lot of power in being willing to walk away. No one can hold power over you as long as you’re willing to walk away.

  • پوشک بارلی سایز دو says:

    در این روزها حتما شما هم دغدغه ی خرید پوشک بچه و پیدا کردن یک پوشک مناسب و راحت را برای نوزادتان دارید. شاید هم بر اثر افزایش ناگهانی قیمت ارز، به دنبال جایگزین مناسب برای پوشک همیشگی دلبندتان می گردید.
    احتمالا از وقتی کوچولویتان به دنیا آمده، انواع سؤالاتی از قبیل : بهترین مارک پوشک چیه؟,چه پوشکی بخرم؟,پوشک ایرانی خوب هم داریم؟ و تفاوت پوشک ها کجاست؟ بهترین پوشک خارجی چیه؟…
    ذهنتان را مشغول کرده.
    در ادامه به مقایسه ی انواع پوشک های ایرانی و خارجی مناسب نوزاد می پردازیم.

  • sdferverwer says:

    در این روزها حتما شما هم دغدغه ی خرید پوشک بچه و پیدا کردن یک پوشک مناسب و راحت را برای نوزادتان دارید. شاید هم بر اثر افزایش ناگهانی قیمت ارز، به دنبال جایگزین مناسب برای پوشک همیشگی دلبندتان می گردید.

  • sdferverwer says:

    در این روزها حتما شما هم دغدغه ی خرید پوشک بچه و پیدا کردن یک پوشک مناسب و راحت را برای نوزادتان دارید. شاید هم بر اثر افزایش ناگهانی قیمت ارز، به دنبال جایگزین مناسب برای پوشک همیشگی دلبندتان می گردید.

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