It’s hard to vacation. Yes, I realize that this is a ‘first-world problem’ (laughably so), but I was struck on a recent vacation myself how it can be difficult to truly disconnect from work in a real way.
While we’re having fun with family, friends, and maybe even the occasional exotic locale, there can be a creeping sense of guilt for missing work. Emails are piling up. Clients are calling. Colleagues need me.
The overwhelmed brain can take a while to wind down.
Here’s the terrible truth about our minds: they’re limited. When it comes to attention, there are two ‘networks’ at play. The task-positive network (referred to as the Central Executive by neuroscientists) is your active engagement with a task. The task-negative network takes over when your mind wanders or is creative. When one of these two networks is active, the other is not.
Both the task-positive and the task-negative networks are very important to us humans. While we need that focused attention to accomplish tasks, the inspiration and ideas come from the daydreaming. It’s a two-part attention system, and it’s easy to abuse at work. Sometimes we force the employment of the task-positive network in order to be extra productive. Sometimes we vacillate back and forth too quickly, like when we allow social media to interrupt work.
Vacations can be enormously restorative, but not if we use our minds in the same way as we do when we’re working. Checking email, thinking about work, or using your Central Executive while on vacation means your mind doesn’t get that break.
So as you manage to eke out a couple days for yourself and your family this month, make sure you do your brain a favor and let it wander. Let your creative mind flow. When you need to concentrate on something, take your time.
Don’t worry, the Central Executive has gotten enough exercise, and will still be healthy when you return.