Get Better at Your Job—by Taking More Vacations

One of the most common mixed messages in the workplace is “You work too hard.’’

Americans, who already have far less time off than our peers in other wealthy countries, tend not to use all of the vacation days we do have: we left a cumulative 658 million days of paid time off unused in 2015. According to Project: Time Off, employees at all levels skip vacations due to fear of not meeting management’s expectations about commitment, along with valid concerns about the pile of work to catch up on when they return.

But neuroscience tells us that time off is essential—and that our brain is never so “off’’ as it seems. Scientists who study the work and relaxation patterns of high-achieving artists and musicians conclude that long interludes between intense bursts of concentrated work fuel the flowering of creativity needed to create new art and music.

Even for those who don’t work in the arts, a four-day weekend in a cabin without Wi-Fi may help to solve problems that baffle us at work. Research indicates the “resting’’ brain is using about as much energy as when we are immersed in problem-solving, which implies that deeper mental processes are at work in ways that are useful but not yet well understood.

The bottom line is this: vacation time has value. So take your time off. Your brain will thank you—and your work will improve.