Here’s an idea: Instead of thinking of your summer vacation as something that detracts from your work, think of it as a way to boost your work performance — or even your business.

The weeklong getaways that run a day or two over, the hour-long siestas that turn into three hours, and the three-day weekends that go on for four can all help your career. You just have to use the time well to take care of your physical and mental health.

Why? A healthy body makes for a healthy, balanced mind, and that’s the chief asset of a truly good worker. It’s not about the hours you spend behind a desk — it’s about what’s going through your head while you’re there.

Here are four ways to ensure that your summer fun in the sun enhances your career success, whether you’re still on vacation or are back from one:

1. Go for a run in the park, or swim in a lake at sunset.
It used to be that working out was optional. Now we know that regular exercise makes you calmer, smarter, happier, and richer. So how can you possibly say that it’s not one of your highest priorities?

It makes sense that if you feel better about yourself and the world you’ll do better in business. Because business is about thinking clearly, acting with confidence, and making good connections.

But don’t work out just because people who work out make more money. Do it because it’ll change your outlook on life. Really. You’ll be less likely to be depressed and more likely to be optimistic.

If you’re younger, join an athletic team. People who play sports do better in their careers. This is true whether you’re on a small liberal arts college fencing team or a Big Ten football squad. The self-confidence, teamwork, and drive that athletes display makes them higher performers at work.

Sure, there are exceptions, but the advantage is so pronounced that some corporate recruiters at colleges ask to see only the athletes.

2. Mentor a summer intern.
Each of us needs mentors to guide us through our careers at different points in time. Sometimes we need help navigating office politics, sometimes we need advice on making a life change. At each point, knowing how to ask for help is essential, and the best way to learn how to ask for help is to give help.

If you mentor someone, you help yourself as well. You’ll find out what a mentoring relationship is like from the other side. For example, you’ll learn what feels useful to the mentor and what’s annoying. You’ll also discover why it’s important to ask good questions, because as a mentor you’re helpless if the person you’re trying to help doesn’t know what he wants.

Summer interns are ripe for this task. They’re there because they want to learn. You can teach them not only about the workplace but about themselves, and how to figure out where they fit. You can be an advisor and a coach and a friend. These are all great ways to mentor, and after the experience you’ll have more confidence in seeking a mentor of your own.

3. Curl up in the sun with a book.

Information overload comes from sifting through ideas all day. In a knowledge-worker environment, with the Internet constantly streaming new ideas, the most successful workers are those who can sort information most efficiently.

Learning top-flight productivity skills is essential in today’s workplace, but that can only get you so far. At some point, you’ll need to read 300 pages on the same topic. For most of you, this means turning off the computer, but luckily summer is a great time for curling up with a good book.

I don’t mean a Tom Clancy novel, either — I’m talking about big ideas. This means that instead of sticking with a subject for the time it takes to scroll down a page, you have to stick with it for an entire weeklong vacation. That might sound dire, but remember the thrill of the rigorous thinking you did in college, when there were no all-department meetings and no memos to read during lunchtime?

Big ideas take time to understand, and they need to grow in your brain so you can make them your own. Take the opportunity to do so this summer, when the world gives you more permission to take long breaks.

4. Differentiate yourself by lying quietly in the grass.

When was the last time you had a grand epiphany in an important company meeting? Probably never. If the meeting is important, then you prepare and you concentrate and you think about what everyone else is doing — all things that keep your mind from being open to something random and profound.

Grand thinking requires space, flexibility, and time. These things are hard to come by if you lead a life that doesn’t allow for stillness. We owe it to ourselves to take time to be alone and do nothing, or almost nothing. Even if no big ideas come to you at that moment, there’s a clear, still moment where your brain gets a rest. And lying in the grass lets your body rest, too.

Career coach Susan Bernstein says that success and fulfillment in a job come when you connect your body and your mind to your work. The first step in acquiring this balance, I believe, is quiet contemplation.

10 replies
  1. Tim
    Tim says:

    Let me defend fiction!
    (from your entire article on Yahoo!)

    Business books on down-time might
    not be that great. It’s still work
    centric–sometimes you really need to
    free your mind.

    Reading good fiction can certainly
    open up one’s mind. A little escape
    can do wonders! I read fiction, when
    I can, at lunch–I call it my mental
    health break. It works for me!

    * * * * *

    Yes. Great point, and thanks for bringing this up.

    And, if I might add… one of the only ways to increase one’s emotional intelligence by reading a book is to read fiction. In order to enjoy fiction you have to have empathy for the characters and you have to understand the subtext of words and actions. Most people with poor emotional intelligence also do not enjoy fiction. This is why you should read fiction even if you don’t enjoy it.

    Penelope

    • Mark W.
      Mark W. says:

      Penelope, this recent and very interesting article ( http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/opinion/sunday/the-neuroscience-of-your-brain-on-fiction.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all ) mentions the emotional intelligence benefits of reading fiction. Neuroscience studies are being done with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines.
      A quote from the article –

      “Dr. Oatley and Dr. Mar, in collaboration with several other scientists, reported in two studies, published in 2006 and 2009, that individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective. This relationship persisted even after the researchers accounted for the possibility that more empathetic individuals might prefer reading novels.”

  2. Howie
    Howie says:

    I also don’t mind reading fictions. Imagination is a great way of stimulating our minds.
    At times when I don’t have something else to do, I think about something and try to imagine..

  3. Andrey
    Andrey says:

    Charles Dickens would better do!
    Our real life is much more interesting, though being in the secondary school I’ve checked all science fiction books in public libraries of my city :)
    And I find most fiction readings boring now, especially when it’s warm outside.

    And during my holidays, at least a couple of days, I do ‘whatever your heart desires’. One should feel happy on these activities, and stay calm! Then, the effrots in business and study will be tripled.

  4. Helen
    Helen says:

    With all the new gadgets and other activities technology offers us, fiction books are probably going short. However, I think fiction is still alive in some other means.

  5. gaurav bhatt
    gaurav bhatt says:

    any thing may happen..so try to start your day with your parents blessing&friends comliments.this reduce the chance of anything unfair with you,each day.so be carefull i am saying this cause i realise that in this weak.at last STAY COOL.

  6. William Mitchell, CPRW
    William Mitchell, CPRW says:

    The spring and summer are my favorite times of year. I run my company from home and nothing makes my day better than getting out into nature to get a little work done. One thing I can definitely agree with is that the exposure to sunlight can do wonders for the disposition. During the spring, summer and fall months, I try to spend at least one day in the park working (it has Internet access).

    The breaks I normally take at home puttering around the house and then spent feeding the ducks and walking along the well manicured gardens. Not only does it do wonders for one’s disposition, it also allows more human interaction and gets the blood flowing. Additionally, I usually get much more work done because there are fewer distractions (TiVo, stereo, house cleaning, bed, etc.)

    As far as vacations, this is usually where I get massive revelations that help me move the business to the next level. I believe not dealing with the day-to-day leaves the mind open to think in the abstract. I have come to many wondrous revelations while on vacation or at extended functions where my mind can wander without deadlines to worry about.

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