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6 Rules for Career-Saving Vacations

Do you know how to take a vacation?

Seems like a dumb question, right? But too often, the thought of
taking time off seems ruinously disruptive, so we leave href="">vacation days unused —
or we spend our holiday sitting by the pool with a href="">BlackBerry in hand instead
of a margarita. That's bad for your health — href="">researchers have linked regular vacations to increased longevity and lower levels of heart disease — as well as
your career.

“At a certain point you’ve got to be able
to rest your muscles and recharge, or you’ll just burn out,”
says Howard Guttman of Guttman Development
, an organization development consulting firm.

So once you’ve booked your flights, pack these six
tips in your carry-on luggage to make the most of your vacation.

1. Fly Home on Saturday

You get back from Tahiti, and you feel
fantastic. Well, except for the jet lag, the sunburn, the huge pile of laundry
and slew of voicemails — things you probably started to stress about well
before you touched down at LAX. “Depending on whether you’ve
crossed time zones, you may need a little time to adjust your body clock; you’ll
also want to catch up on the mail, and sleep, and get your cat back from the
neighbors,” says Kevin Gregory, vice president of Alertness
Solutions, a scientific research firm that found employees are 25 percent more
productive post-vacation.

To avoid first-day-back anxiety, skip the Sunday
night return. Or if you must, take Monday as well, so you can have a catch-up
day and return to the office Tuesday.

2. Designate Someone as Your Eyes and Ears

Sure, go ahead and set up an automated message on your
e-mail and voicemail. (“If this is urgent, contact me at ...” — with emphasis on the word “urgent” to prevent
unnecessary interruptions.) But more important, choose a href="">trusted
person to alert you if there’s a real issue. You’ll be
better able to relax knowing you’re not missing anything important.
Just remember that this is a favor and not part of anyone’s job
description, says Mark Jeffries, a
communications consultant and author of the upcoming book The Art of
Business Seduction: A 30-Day Plan to Get Noticed, Get Promoted and Get Ahead
“Go out of your way to help and assist this person prior to your
trip,” he suggests — “so that by the time you
leave, they will want to repay the favor.”

3. Avoid the Staycation

Get away, even if it’s not far or for
long. According to Gregory’s
, people who traveled from Los Angeles to New Zealand got three
times as much href="">deep
sleep as when they weren’t on vacation. But don’t
expect to get that effect amid the href="">distractions
at home. “When you’re home, even when you take time
off, there are things to do around the house that catch your attention as
opposed to having nothing to do,” says Gregory.

4. Quarantine Your Gadgets

Of course, if you never turn off the BlackBerry,
you wind up stuck in Hartford mentally, even if your body is in Hawaii. “If
the mind is still engaged there, that’s pretty similar to physically
being there,” says Gregory. “The whole purpose of going
somewhere else is having the opportunity to relax.” On the other
hand, the days of being able to check out entirely are probably gone.

How to find the balance? Try to restrict your
online presence, say the experts: Leave the laptop in the href="">hotel
room, and check in no more than once or twice a day. Guttman’s
suggestion: Unplug by breakfast time. “When I’m on vacation
I quickly go through e-mails in the morning,” he explains. “I’d
rather have some sense of what’s going on in the morning than be
totally out of touch for a week and then come back to whatever happened.”

5. Take Mini-Breaks

If you can’t take off enough time
for an African safari or snorkeling Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, you
can maintain your sanity — and productivity — by packing
the car for regular long weekends away. “As opposed to setting up two
weeks or three weeks off, I notice a lot of clients taking mini-breaks,”
says Guttman. Schedule them at regular intervals, he say, “so you
always have something to look forward to.”

6. Skip the 7 a.m. Sightseeing

The crack-of-dawn tour of the Mayan ruins may help you beat
the heat, but it could ruin your vacation’s sleep payoff — and
cancel out that post-vacation href="">performance
boost. “When people lose sleep, href="">their
mood and performance is poor. They don’t communicate as well,”
says Gregory, adding: “The flip side is that when you’re
well rested you’re in a better mood, your performance is better and you’re
happier.” Which is the whole point of going on vacation in the first

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