Skip to content

Taking Vacations and Unconscious Wandering

David Sherry
2 min read
Taking Vacations and Unconscious Wandering

We’ve just come off of a long weekend here in the U.S.

Many of us took some time away or at least enjoyed the quieter days from the typical business of email and Slack.

If you work for yourself, it’s easy to beat yourself up if/when you take a break.

A common worry is the idea that “If I take a break, I will lose my edge.”

I’ve heard this said about personal growth, therapy, and meditation, although that’s a topic for the future.

Instead of letting ourselves unwind (which can take a few days) we stay plugged in. Maybe out of compulsion, or inertia, or the fears listed above.

Checking email, and ruminating on work while we should be present with those around us.

There is some reality to a bit of fogginess that can come from taking a break.

After 4 days away from work, I feel like I need to relearn all of my systems and get reacquainted with my goals.

So how much time off do we really need? Does it really boost our productivity or does it make us lose our edge? Is it possible to be “productive” in a different way by giving ourselves a break?

I don’t think the answer to this is very clear for knowledge workers.

Last year's events pushed us ever more online, and so plugged in is now the default.

But I think one way to think about this is through letting our unconscious have more attention instead of our conscious mind.

In our typical work environment, we employ a very specific type of thinking that is often calculating and logic-oriented.

This type of productivity functions more like compiling and developing rather than diffuse, creative problem-solving.

Unconcious Wandering

Unlike typical focused work-time – Unconscious wandering lets our unconscious minds wander and allows us to zoom out and assess the bigger picture.

Despite a lack of “plugged-in” time, I’m always surprised by random realizations that I have while away on vacation, or even just on a walk.

Somehow this space breeds a different type of insight and thinking which can help us re-orient and reenergize.

This type of spontaneous insight seems to come with a burst of organic energy like it was waiting for time to show up but I had been so busy it stayed dormant.

Burnout is a real and common reason to allow ourselves space, vacation, and time away from our work. But possibly just as important is to allow for a different type of thinking, one that allows ideas to come to the surface which were suppressed.

So, how much time do we really need?

Unconscious wandering can be done at any length – from an hour walk, to an unplugged Sunday, vacation, or even sabbatical.

The point is to let your subconscious work and speak to you more, by giving it some space to breathe.

The reason for a vacation is for more than just a break from work, it's a time to spend time and be present.

However, I find that I can do more of that if I also know that I'm allowing another type of intelligence to be present, rather than just being "lazy" and I even do things to encourage it.

Long walks, meditation, reading, time at a beach, all of these are perfectly great places to let unconscious wandering take effect and bring me new ideas.

I hope you all had a great, and spacious 4th weekend.

BurnoutCommitting to Your WorkCreative Lessons