How to Maximize Your Time Off for Your Career

P:TO Takeaway

If your work routine has gone stale, plan a vacation with ideas from Bill Gates’ “think week” to provide a shot of inspiration at the office.


When was the last time you gleaned insight from staring at your cubicle wall? What was the latest bright idea that came to you during your monotonous commute? Drawing a blank? It’s not you; it’s your work routine.

I have nothing against a good daily routine, but when routines turn into ruts, a change of pace can make all the difference. You don’t need to look far for a change: considering most Americans leave vacation time unused, I’m guessing you have a day or six to spare.

Stealing away from the workplace grind for a period of thought and reflection is a practice implemented by various business leaders, most notably Bill Gates. Gates’ well-publicized, semi-annual “think weeks” spent away from the distractions of work, friends, and even family have helped Microsoft stay ahead of industry trends like the “internet tidal wave” in 1995.

Admittedly, Gates’ think weeks weren’t exactly vacations in the way you and I think of them. They were occasions for him to digest feedback from company employees and sift through dozens of ideas about the future of the tech industry.

The key is that Gates spent his think weeks in a vacation cottage nestled amongst cedar trees, far from the distractions and stresses of the workplace. He understands that breaking up the monotony of the daily work routine helps him face challenges with a fresh perspective.

Odds are, you are not an enormously influential executive of one of the world’s most successful businesses, but that doesn’t disqualify you from the benefits of stepping away from your normal routine. You don’t have to spend a week of isolation in the woods in order to solve problems back at work either. Like Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspiration could hit you while on a run-of-the-mill, relaxing vacation.

If the thought of setting aside even a few minutes to think about work on your vacation is enough to make you sick to your stomach, then by all means, hope for that coincidental inspiration. However, if you are not opposed to the idea of dedicating some time to your job in between cocktails on the beach, try these tips for your next vacation.


  • Develop a reading list. Before you even leave on vacation, make a collection of relevant articles, papers, or even (gasp!) books that might fuel your creative process.


  • Take advantage of travel time. Whether traveling by car or plane, your vacation likely includes several hours of transportation time. Use this time to find answers and direction for your job or


  • Take a “think day.” If you’re traveling alone, set aside just one day of your vacation to eliminate the distractions of technology and dedicate yourself to reading up on industry trends, setting job or career goals, and writing down ideas as they come to you.


  • Find some time alone. If you’re traveling with friends or family, try waking up before everyone else and dedicate an hour to a work problem as you enjoy a sunrise walk. You might be surprised how you see things differently in a new, worry-free environment.

Try experimenting to find the solution that works for you. You might be best served by spending an entire week posting up on a beach towel, feeling the sand between your toes as you drift in and out of sleep to the sound of crashing waves. On the other hand, incorporating a few elements of a Bill Gates’ think week might be a perfect solution. Either way, it’s time to break out of your normal routine, because word on the street is your cubicle wall is fresh out of bright ideas.


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