Grandma Agrees: Vacations Make Us All More Productive

Grandma vacationThis Grandma loves vacations.  Who doesn’t?  However, something I have suspected for a long time—that vacations make us more productive, is the subject of the front page article in the Sunday Review section of the New York Times, February 10, 2013.  Tony Schwartz, the chief executive officer of The Energy Project and the author of “Be Excellent at Anything,” writes in his article, “Relax! You’ll Be More Productive,”  that:

More and more of us find ourselves unable to juggle overwhelming demands and maintain a seemingly unsustainable pace.  Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less.  A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal—including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations—boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.

Sleep and vacations—two of my favorite activities, of course, with the ones Grandma loves.  So how does this work for those of us who still work?  According to Mr. Schwartz, we can increase our energy, the capacity to do work, by renewing ourselves.  He says we are reluctant to take time off:

Taking more time off is counterintuitive for most of us.  The idea is also at odds with the prevailing work ethic in most companies, where downtime is typically viewed as time wasted.  More than one third of employees, for example, eat lunch at their desks on a regular basis.  More than 50 percent assume they’ll work during their vacations.

In most workplaces, rewards still accrue to those who push the hardest and most continuously over time.  But that does not mean they’re most productive. . . .When we’re under pressure, however, most of us experience the opposite impulse [to renewal]; to push harder rather than rest.  This may explain why a recent study by Harris Interactive found that Americans left an average of 9.2 vacation days unused in 2012—up from 6.2 days in 2011.

Also, apparently, we are not getting enough sleep and insufficient sleep also keeps us from being productive.

In a study of nearly 400 employees, published last year, researchers found that sleeping too little—defined as less than six hours each night—was one of the best predictors of on-the-job burnout.  A recent Harvard study estimated that sleep deprivation costs American companies $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity.  The Stanford researcher Cheri D. Mah found that when she got male basketball players to sleep 10 hours a night, their performances in practice dramatically improved:  free-throw and three-point shooting each increased by an average of 9 percent.

This Grandma has watched many grandchildren’s basketball games but I still do not know what three-point shooting is.  What I recall is that eight hours of sleep also helps us to lose weight.  Hmmm.  Thinner and more productive—what a great combination!  See this article at and  information on the recent sleep and weight connection study at

It seems that our bodies work in 90 minute intervals, according to Tony Schwartz:

The importance of restoration is rooted in our physiology.  Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously.  Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy. . . .during the day we move from a state of physiological fatigue approximately every 90 minutes.  Our bodies regularly tell us to take a break, but we often override these signals and instead stoke ourselves up with caffeine, sugar and our own emergency reserves—the stress hormones adrenaling, noradrenaline and cortisol.  Working in 90 minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity.

Mr. Schwartz said he works using the 90 minute interval session theory, and created a business around this power of renewal “that helps a range of companies including Google, Coca-Cola, Green Mountain Coffee, the Los Angeles Police Department, Cleveland Clinic, and Genentech.”   Now we need to try this ourselves in our daily life.  Timers to work anyone?

Now let’s get to the studies on vacations according to Mr. Schwartz:

In 2006, the accounting firm Ernst & Young did an internal study of its employees and found for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings from supervisors (on a scale of one to five) improved by 8 percent.  Frequent vacationers were also significantly less likely to leave the firm.

Mr. Schwarz uses his own offices as laboratory, has a renewal room for relaxation, a lounge where there are healthy snacks, encourages workers to take renewal breaks throughout the day, leave the office for lunch, allows employees to work from home several times a week, workdays end at 6 pm and no one is expected to answer email in the evenings or on the weekends, and, best of all, employees receive four weeks of vacation from their first year.  He says no one has chosen to leave his company in a decade.  Wow!  Is he hiring?  His conclusion:

Our basic idea is that the energy employees bring to their jobs is far more important in terms of the value of their work than the number of hours they work.  By managing energy more skillfully, it’s possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably. . . .Our secret is simple—and generally applicable.  When we’re renewing, we’re truly renewing, so when we’re working, we can really work.

Now I know what he means.  Quality, not quantity, of work by working smart, not more, is the key.  Thank you, Mr. Schwartz, for bringing your theory public.

Here is what Grandma says:


We need to pass this information to those we know to employers in positions of power.  Who does not want more productivity in their company.  We need to pass the information on to our children, to start working in 90 minute intervals.  What a great gift to give a 90 minute hourglass.  Believe it or not, these are sold.  $49 at Amazon.


We need to practice this with our grandchildren.  And, of course, we need to practice this ourselves.  I don’t know about you, but I do better with some renewal time.  I need time to just think.  And I think better when I am more relaxed and not stressed.


You can see I am a planner.  I am already working on a Spring 2014 long weekend family vacation.  Remember Mr. Schwartz is just getting the word out.  Our children’s employers do not give four week vacation periods.  Forget the first year!  Therefore, as grandmas, we have to plan shorter multigenerational vacations, and farther in advance.  We do not want to use all of our children’s vacation time for the year, as much as we want to have all of our family together often.  We must leave some time for the other family—the other family deserves every other year, so we can only plan a multigenerational vacation every other year.  We cannot short term plan as different children and different grandchildren have different vacation time available.  By planning far in advance, we can try to find a long weekend that is not a holiday weekend to avoid the high cost associated with vacationing at peak times.


Please remember this Grandma’s theme:  to do best for our grandchildren, we must keep their parents marriage strong.  To keep their marriage strong, we must recommend that the parents of our grandchildren use the small amount of vacation time they have for alone time, at least 24 hours alone at least four times a year—no children, not at home, no electronics, just intimate time alone.  We Grandmas must use our vacation time to make that happen.  That is a priority for what vacation time we and the parents of our grandchildren have so we can reap



Speak Your Mind