4 Ways I Took Time Off (And Still Felt Shockingly Productive)

4 Ways to Stay Productive Even If You're Not Working
Time is the most valuable resource, right? Well, what do you do when you’ve suddenly got a huge chunk of time ahead of you?
I found myself in this situation last fall as a college senior. I was able to complete my classes two quarters early, and if I so desired, wouldn’t have to take classes all of January through May before graduating.

The thought of a five-month long vacation was absolutely thrilling but also a bit terrifying. We all know too well that it’s so important to take time off, but in reality, we don’t end up doing it enough. It’s very easy to stay plugged in after hours, skip out on PTO, or work weekends even if we don’t really have to. Perhaps it’s the feeling that we’ll miss something important if we’re not tuned in or the peer pressure from the workaholics around us. But in reality, taking time off can greatly improve productivity, stimulate creative thinking, reduce stress, and give your brain that recharge it deserves.

So what did I end up doing over this makeshift sabbatical? In true multitasking fashion, I did a bit of everything to treat my stressed out self: I traveled to Australia and New Zealand, met Warren Buffett (more on that here), coached tennis and taught music, worked with the awesome Career Contessa team, gained non-profit experience at Room to Read (yes, the workaholic in me couldn’t quite escape working), and probably induced early onset of diabetes with incessant baking. But beyond this list of really fun things are some lessons I learned about the impact taking time off can have on personal and professional development. Here they are:

1. WHEN YOU'RE TAKING TIME OFF, IT’S OK TO DO THINGS JUST BECAUSE

I approached the Career Contessa team last fall with a boatload of enthusiasm and a goal to work with them—not because the internship was directly relevant to my immediate career goals, but just because I loved their mission and knew I’d learn a lot. I trusted my gut that Career Contessa was where I wanted to be and convinced the team to hire me, which led to an amazing growth experience that actually did influence my long-term aspirations. I know that most people don’t have the luxury to just pick up an interest and make it happen, but if presented with the time to do so, I’d say go for it. Sometimes, the best experiences can’t be scripted.
It’s easy to stay plugged in after hours, skip out on PTO, or work weekends even if we don’t really have to. But in reality, taking time off gives your brain that recharge it deserves.

2. COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT IS SO WORTH IT

A friend of mine once said, “If you really care about a cause, you’ll find time for it, despite how demanding work might be.” Case in point: she juggled her job as a banker while serving as a rape counselor on the weekends. Yes, she is a total baller, but her point shone through during my time off. Working at an education non-profit and volunteering at my high school were both incredibly rewarding experiences, and have motivated me to seek service opportunities for young professionals once I start my full-time job. In addition, I took advantage of networking and women’s events while taking time off, both of which were great ways to engage with inspiring peers and improve professional visibility. The point is: there is time to engage in our communities. We’ve just got to find it.

3. READING AND WRITING REALLY CHANGE YOU

I actually read books over the last few months. For fun. So many of my peers early in their careers have told me that work schedules often leave little time to read for pleasure…and I totally believe it. During my time off, I started reading articles that weren’t just my morning news scoop, but op-eds and perspectives on a variety of topics—things I used to make excuses for and tuck away into a barely opened “Read Later” folder. Reading more has given me great intellectual satisfaction (and made me a more interesting person), which, by the way, comes in handy when you need to break the ice. Bring up that new book you’ve started reading with someone who might be interested in the topic, and bingo, there’s an instant connection.

To top it off, I delved into writing with encouragement from the CC team, which has turned out to be a great decision. Not only does writing serve as a reflective outlet, but it’s also a neat way to beef up your online presence and credibility in the eyes of a recruiter…hint hint.

4. PERSONAL FOMO IS ONLY TEMPORARY

Confession: My biggest fear when leaving school for five months was that I would miss out on all the memories with friends and end up regretting my decision later. I’ll admit—the beginning was hard. I had to force myself off of social media and realize that I was only detracting from the time I was using to invest in myself. So I decided to jump on the JOMO bandwagon and recognize the “joy of missing out”—or the feeling of being completely comfortable with your decisions and trusting yourself. It might sound funky, but it could be a step in the right direction to get over career FOMO as well.

So all in all, I’m rating my time off as a 10/10. I’m feeling ready to tackle the world of #adulting and have found new passions and interests that I hope to keep pursuing. If you’ve got the chance to take a break—whether it’s between high school and college, a work sabbatical, or time in between jobs, take a leap of faith. It paid off for me (and in more ways than the tuition money I was able to save)!

What would you do with some time off?