Are You Missing Vacation from Your Definition of Work-Life Balance?

Is vacation time missing from your notion of work-life balance? It’s time for a new definition that values leisure time as much as life and work. Throw out everything you thought you knew about work-life balance. It’s time for a vacation!

Do you struggle to find free time to do whatever you want to do? You know… the kinds of activities that lead to excitement, fulfillment, relaxation, and happiness? Forget the outdated notion of putting in fewer working hours as the only way to improve your work-life balance. Working less does not mean that you have gained free time. Traditional work-life balance just shifts time on the job to time managing your life.

Equation for Work-Life-Vacation Time Balance
New Equation for Work-Life Balance: Your Time = Work Time + Life Time + Vacation Time

Vacation is the essential missing element from the equation. You have to work to make money and earn a living. As for life, you have to take care of home and family responsibilities. What we call work and life will vary over a lifetime, but never go away. How much vacation time you have available is what you should be measuring to see if you are truly in balance.

When You Are ‘On Vacation’

After the working day is done and you have no urgent responsibilities to take care at home, you can choose to be on vacation. While you may think of vacation as a fixed block of leisure time, you’ll quickly learn that it is so much more. Think of it as leisure time, me time, travel time, holiday time, free time, family time, learning time, enrichment time, community time and simply fun time all rolled into one.

Freeing up your time off from work and from life is exactly what work-life-vacation balance is all about. VacationCounts is here to promote the idea of having a healthy work-life-vacation balance by redefining how you measure your time and optimize your happiness.

Why Work-Life Balance is the Wrong Measurement

We are all very familiar with the decades-old term “work-life balance.” It has become a used and overused way to describe our separation of work time and personal time. The goal is described as balancing the two halves so that you have enough hours in the day outside of work to take care of yourself, your family, and life’s responsibilities. When you are feeling stressed and overworked, the first thought is often to seek out the elusive work-life balance.

More Definitions of Work-Life Balance

Many employers consider the notion of work-life balance to mean working less, but that is too simplistic. It’s about time management, productivity, and getting things done on the job so you can have a life (and vacation) outside of work. Career-driven people enjoy working hard and earning the rewards of professional achievement. Those same people tend to “want it all” meaning a successful career plus time for themselves, their family, and the pursuits that lead to happiness. Work-life balance has become just a catchphrase for the desire to limit the time devoted to work to gain back a sense of control over the spiraling intrusion of our working lives into our personal lives.

Someone once said that we shouldn’t live to work, we should work to live. Yes, most of us desire job satisfaction meaning success at work that is intellectually, socially, and financially rewarding. So it makes perfect sense that the term “work-life balance” came on the scene. However by being more efficient and flexible with your working hours, you won’t automatically be happier in life. If you leave work early only to pick up your dry cleaning, rush home to make a healthy dinner, schedule an appointment, then go online to pay your bills, are you really gaining balance?

Definition of the word “vacation”

While we’re at it, let’s define redefine the English word vacation since it no longer means taking a trip or a paid day off from work.

The formal definition of the word vacation is a holiday or a break from work. Merriam Webster says that it is a “period of time that a person spends away from home, school, or business usually in order to relax or travel.” Here is their official definition.

Dictionary Definition of Vacation

Source: “Vacation.” Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 19 May 2015.

I do like the sound of their definition; however let’s expand upon the word “usually” since there are so many other things besides relaxation and travel that are considered vacation time. The other piece of the puzzle is the notion of choice. To be “on vacation”, you must choose what activities to pursue.

The modern definition of Vacation

a period of time that a person chooses to spend pursuing activities outside of the responsibilities of work and life

Source: VacationCounts definition of ‘vacation’
Vacation Definition Time Off Work and Life

So what do you think? When you are doing something that you chose to do for enjoyment, fulfillment, or enrichment, you are experiencing vacation time. This is in stark contrast to managing your home life such as when you have to clean the house, pay the bills, go to the doctor, run errands, or raise your family. As for work you may love you job but most of us have little choice. We have to keep commuting to the office or work site full-time to earn a living.

Is the word Vacation the same as Holiday?

Do you use the word holiday instead of vacation where you live and work like in the UK or Australia? Outside of America, most countries say “holiday” when talking about taking paid time off. Going on holiday or annual holiday leave are the preferred phrases. Of course a national, public or official holiday is something entirely different. Read more about the history of these related words and know when to say holiday as opposed to vacation in each country.

Defining Vacation to Get Balance

When you are not working and not dealing with who and what you are responsible for taking care of in life, you are (as far as the VacationCounts definition is concerned) on vacation. It is made up of those minutes, hours, days, and weeks when you decide what to do without any sense of duty or responsibility. During the vacation time part of work-life balance, you are free from the daily demands of life and put on you by your employer.

To make the distinction absolutely clear, you are not automatically on vacation just because it’s after work or the weekend or a paid holiday. Nor are you on vacation because you left the house or not at the office. It’s not about time or location but mindset.

Yes you can be on vacation without leaving your home (staycation anyone?), but you have to be in the vacation mindset to switch to vacation mode. Simply lounging around the house doing nothing is not vacation. However if you decide to pursue arts and crafts, listen to your favorite music, learn how to cook a new recipe, play a board game with your family, or even plan a bucket list trip… those can all be counted as vacation time.

Again it’s about stopping work and life by setting aside time to do what gives your life joy and brings happiness to your day.

Get Vacation Balance Big List of Ideas

The idea of what you can do with vacation time is endless, so some additional examples are necessary. You are on vacation (using vacation time, not work time and not life time) when you decide to spend your free time for family, leisure, travel, and enrichment activities of any kind, including…

  • Leaving work early to enjoy happy hour with friends
  • Taking off early Saturday morning for a weekend driving trip
  • Signing up for an arts or music class in the evenings to pursue a creative hobby
  • Going on a week-long vacation to a sunny holiday resort
  • Taking a long lunch break with a colleague to try out a hipster café
  • Sitting on the couch reading to your kids or playing video games together
  • Heading off on a summer-long sabbatical to learn Spanish while living in Latin America
  • Going for a picnic with your loved one on a sunny weekend afternoon
  • Watching your favorite sports team in person at the stadium
  • Design your own greeting cards to send during the holidays
  • Waking up early to go for a walk or bike ride in a nature area before work
  • Riding the rails backpacking across Europe or in Japan
  • Baking cookies together at home to enjoy in front of the fire
  • Hiking the Appalachian Trail or the Camino de Santiago for spiritual and mindful reasons
  • Volunteering for a local charity event to give back to your community
  • Spending a rainy day at the movies with candy and popcorn
  • Hosting a party in your house for Halloween or any occasion
  • Booking a room at a B&B in the mountains or the desert with your spouse or partner
  • Taking a wine tasting class or a beer-making class
  • Seeking out a festival or live music event to be part of the crowd
  • Camping in your backyard with your kids just for the fun of it
  • Are you starting to get the idea…? 😀

Why Work-Life-Vacation Balance is better than #worklifebalance?

Now that you understand how a vacation is more than just the set number of days you have off from your job (paid or unpaid), let’s introduce a new and improved way to measure work-life balance.

The missing piece of the puzzle is vacation. Let’s divide how you allocate your time (your day, week, or month) into three parts – work, life, and vacation. They fit together nicely, don’t they?

Work-Life Balance Missing Puzzle Piece is Vacation

Your goal is to optimize “work” so you can have more time for life. Next optimize “life” so you have more time for vacation. The “balance” term means optimizing your work, life, AND vacation so they are in the proportions you desire now and in every stage of your working life. Once you retire and have no need to work, you can call it Life-Vacation Balance 😉

1. Work

Think about how much time you spend at work including at the office, out on sales calls, and at your workplace. Don’t forget to include commuting time plus the time you spend working from home or checking in while on vacation. You might even want to count time when you are just thinking about your job, but that might be a bit too far. This part of your balance is counted as “work time” and it’s ripe for optimizing. Your goal is to reduce your working hours by being more productive and cutting down on non-essential job activities. Are you up for the challenge?

Work-Optimization Tips

Are you working too many hours and simply need to leave the office at a “normal” hour? Read our 40-hour workweek post to see what I mean. Is there a way to cut down on your commute such as by changing jobs, moving closer, or taking public transportation? During evenings and weekends, can you turn off your mobile devices and stop checking and responding to work email? You can also try to negotiate for a compressed work week or for additional vacation days.

These are just some of the many ways in which you can free up work time by optimizing your entire work day. What are you going to do with this newly found time? Allocate to your vacation balance of course!

2. Life

Calculate how much time you spend managing your life, your household, and your family. All these responsibilities, things you have little choice and control over, is part of your “life” balance. Every hour of time that you can free up can be turned into vacation time if you choose. It helps to examine and write down everything you do as you evaluate ways to optimize those life tasks. Question everything that you do on a daily or weekly basis in order to pick out those tasks that can be eliminated or done more efficiently.

Life-Optimization Tips

There are endless ways and countless blogs about saving time and money at home. Too often they require that you spend time to save money which goes against the VacationCounts philosophy of time being more valuable than money. Of course you can’t justify a house cleaning service if it won’t fit within your budget either. At the same time, if you spend hours clipping coupons and going out of your way to save a few dollars you may be giving up priceless free time. You’ll have to balance time and money to determine the optimal way for you to gain more vacation time.

Regardless, your goal is to find ways to free up time spent on household chores and life and family’s recurring responsibilities. Never assume for example that because you’ve always paid your bills manually or shopped for groceries in person, that you can’t automate these tasks or use online tools to free up vacation time off.

3. Vacation.

What’s left after adding up all your work and life hours and subtracting it from your total waking hours? Vacation of course! Think about all the possibilities for how you will spend your vacation time. Our big list above of what you can do on a “vacation” of any length is there to inspire you to pursue your work-life-vacation balance goals.

The work-life-vacation balancing act is just that – an opportunity to tweak your work and your life to free up vacation opportunities. How much more vacation time do you think you can make happen to pursue leisure, family, travel, and enriching activities?

How to optimize your work-life-vacation balance

Optimizing your work+life balance/fit/integration to enjoy more vacation time off is exactly the purpose of the VacationCounts blog and apps. Use the menu above to discover more articles on taking more time off in the following categories:

What happens when you optimize your work and life time? You create more vacation time of course! What could be better than that?

Optimize Your Work-Life-Vacation Balance Mix

To optimize the “work” part of your balance, you may have to:

  • Work fewer hours at your current job
  • Put in less overtime hours
  • Change jobs to one with a shorter work week or less overtime
  • Be more efficient getting your job done and going home
  • Go from full-time to part-time work
  • Retire early or temporarily
  • Take a sabbatical from work
  • Find a job that offers more PTO or unlimited vacation benefits
  • Negotiate for more vacation days per year
  • Transition to flex-time or a flexible working schedule
  • Ask for a day off in lieu of working overtime or as a bonus
  • Move closer to work to reduce your time wasted commuting
  • Refuse to schedule meetings at the end of your work day

To optimize the “life” part of your balance, you may have to:

  • Outsource your home and garden chores by hiring a cleaning or landscaping service.
  • Hire a professional manager for your household budget and retirement investments.
  • Ask your partner to take on more home duties to balance it out and
  • Tell your kids to help out to free up more family vacation time.
  • Learn to say “No” to requests to do things that you honestly don’t have time to do.
  • Automate your finances such as paying recurring bills and doing your taxes.
  • Move into an apartment or a smaller home that requires less cost and maintenance.
  • Shop online or cut back on how often you must shop for your household.
  • Coordinate taking the kids to school and activities with their classmates.
  • Cancel cable TV and recurring subscriptions like to newspapers or streaming services that take up more of your life than you wish.
  • Stop wasting time at home and just get out there to enjoy the day!

Once you make the decision to shift your work-life to have more vacation days, hours, and minutes, you’ll discover endless ways and reasons to make this new balance your reality.