Travel and Productivity

Many people travel during labor day weekend or at some point during the year. Some feel relieved for a break. Others try to work as much as they can during the trip. There is a third category of individuals who do not feel relieved but also cannot , as a practical matter, work very much. These people generally report feeling “guilty” for “not being productive” during their trips.

This blog post is written for the second group of people (who choose not to take breaks) and the third group of people  (who feel guilty every time they travel). It also applies to any of us (including myself) who have trouble taking some time off to focus on something other than work. 

I have discussed the benefits of study breaks throughout the workweek in the past, including an article about how I took one full day off each week in law school but this post is about the benefits of longer breaks, vacations, and sabbaticals.

To start, let’s talk about trees. I read an article recently on how trees survive the winter. First, they lose their leaves (which cause a lot of energy to maintain) by releasing a chemical called ABA that is produced in the terminal buds. ABA gathers there and signals the leaves to break off. ABA also suspends growth and prevents cells from dividing. Impeded growth saves the tree a lot of energy during the winter. The tree’s metabolism slows down. The tree uses its energy that it stored up slowly and only for essential functions. The whole process is very similar to hibernation.

The most interesting quote in the article about trees was this, “It is possible to force a tree to evade dormancy if you keep it inside and with a stable temperature and light pattern. However, this is usually bad for the tree. It’s natural for trees to go through dormancy cycles, and the lifespan of the plant is dramatically increased if the tree is not allowed to go dormant for a few months. Trees have winter dormancy for a reason, and it’s best to just let them run their course as nature intended.”

I wonder if humans also benefit from breaks – not hibernation or “winter dormancy” (although it does sound nice), but short or long periods of dormancy where they simply do not “output” all of their mental and physical energy like we are so used to doing.

I know that when I travel (which I do frequently) I sometimes feel guilty for not working and being as productive. But paradoxically, when I travel – when I finally leave my day-to-day routine, step outside of a life I am used to, and get acclimated to a different environment or different culture…when I finally take a “break” from working and constantly thinking about my business –  I usually have my best ideas.  I have a new outlook on my business. I have a new program I want to invent or a person I want to talk to. I always find myself flying home writing down my newest insight or ideas. Oddly enough, travel and productivity seem to actually go hand in hand.

It seems totally paradoxical to say it but taking vacations has been better for my business than anything else.

Taking a vacation or a five day break is not the same as taking a long winter break or a sabbatical. But I think that they have similar benefits (probably in different degrees). If you are interested in exploring this concept of how sabbaticals and productivity going hand in hand, watch this Ted Talk about the power of time off by a designer who owns a studio in New York that shuts down for one year every seven years. He talks about famous chefs and business people who have also made it a habit to take frequent lengthy sabbaticals. He discusses how sabbaticals made his business more enjoyable and also states that all of the projects that followed in the seven years after one sabbatical derived from that one year off in sabbatical. It seems that sabbaticals were the best thing for his business, too.

Does this apply to law students and lawyers? I think so. Law students are not required to “think up new ideas” frequently so much as they are required to learn the law and apply it. However, a longer break might help them store up their energy for the task at hand. It might help them enjoy the law more, concentrate better, and come back rejuvenated and ready to tackle the law.

This purpose of this article is not to say we should solely look at travel as being “productive” (after all, our goal in life is not to work but to live). However, I think it can help some people who have a harder time relaxing to let go of their daily routines a bit more easily if they know that travel has some benefits that are not so obvious.

Questions or Comments on Travel and Productivity?

What are your thoughts about travel and productivity? Have your experiences been similar or different? Do you take breaks or sabbaticals? Let us know your thoughts!

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