9 Ways to Optimize Time Away

Vacation, as a planned and protracted leisurely excursion, is a relatively modern invention. Middle-class furloughs to the beach, weeks at theme parks, and recurring holiday getaways all would be unfamiliar to the premodern family.

Yet, seasons of rest and recreation are a pattern as old as the Bible itself, and if we are going to vacation, we might as well optimize it. To this end, over the years I have intentionally incorporated a few objectives. Admittedly, they have been more intuitive than scripted, but I deliberately vacation—especially during the summer—with these nine intentions in mind. Perhaps they will help you as well.

1. Vacation without guilt. Celebrate the biblical rhythm of work and rest, of vocation and recreation. They complement and facilitate one another. Therefore, we should exert ourselves in our work and enjoy our rest and recreation. This dynamic is embedded within the Sabbath principle and the institution of the Lord’s Day. Both are ordained by God, and both can honor Him and help you.

2. Truly unplug. Vacation should be more than working from a different geographical location. I have fallen into that trap before. It proved detrimental to our family and unhelpful to me and the ministry I served. Now, I delete social media from my iPhone, set up the out-of-office email reply, and intentionally stay aloof from my phone. Be findable in the case of emergency, but be unfindable for most anything else.

3. Redeem the time. For me, vacation is not synonymous with unintentionality. Rather, it is the opposite. Vacation provides singular opportunities for outings, trips, conversations, projects, reading, making memories, etc. I want to intentionally use the time, leveraging it, and our vacation, in every way.

4. Evaluate the asset. The maxim “protect the asset” is common in leadership books these days. For me, it has three realms: heart, mind, and body. As to the heart, am I practicing the spiritual disciplines, growing in Christ, and fulfilling my ministry? As to the mind, am I growing intellectually in all of the areas pertaining to my calling and ministry? As to the body, am I caring for myself enough to live, serve and lead most optimally? Set aside some time to “evaluate the asset” on your vacation.

5. Plan facetime. It is not enough to be near your family or even with your family. It is important to have eye-to-eye, undistracted conversations with spouse and kids. I learned long ago that “love” is spelled T-I-M-E. Schedule time for personal, lengthy, heart-touching conversations.

6. Assess your goals. I’m a big believer in goal setting and have set goals for virtually every area of my life and ministry—at least those areas which matter most. Flowing from my life verse, “Guard what has been entrusted to you,” goals help me to track stewardship of my life, calling, family, seminary, and other areas. They will help you as well.

7. Reset boundaries. Busyness often leads to encroachment and reactionary living. You can awaken one day out of kilter with the life rhythm you expect for yourself. For me, reviewing the calendar, pruning unnecessary commitments, and setting myself up for maximum effectiveness is key. While on vacation, my wife and I review/preview our calendars and commitments and ask ourselves, “Is this the best stewardship of our time and resources?”

 8. Strengthen personal weaknesses. No leader is omni-competent. If a leader is not aware of this simple fact, he is simultaneously arrogant and delusional. A dose of self-awareness is essential. While on vacation, I reflect on my life in every dimension, seek to identify personal weaknesses, and strive to strengthen them. Usually, this leads to reading books, accessing podcasts, seeking wise counsel, setting goals, and taking action steps.

9. Reorganize your life. Given the fullness of my life and ministry, I find myself accumulating disorganization during the academic semesters. There are just some things that have to be put off until the summer and winter break. For me, it is almost therapeutic to declutter. I find sorting stacks, discarding unneeded items, and catching up on life-maintenance issues rejuvenating. Oddly, I actually look forward to these catchup days. In fact, I do not know what I would do without them.

In conclusion, let me add that vacations should be a time to rejuvenate you for your calling, not escape it. If you find yourself always pining for vacations in order to get away from your job, you most likely do not need a vacation; you need a new vocation.

If you are going to vacation, you might as well get the most out of it. Perhaps these nine ways will serve you as well as the have served me.

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