The first days of summer are on their way, and with them (hopefully) come vacation plans. With the shift towards longer, sunnier days, some of us are planning idyllic getaways — but impending vacation plans can also include a "vacation brain." You know: You start getting more distracted than usual, and mentally check out of work to daydream about where you could be instead.
A vacation brain might not be a clinical diagnosis, but anyone who has lost focus at work or school in the weeks right before a vacation can tell you that it's very real. It's even possible to mentally check out even if you yourself aren't about to go on vacation.
"If you’re seeing your colleagues taking breaks and vacations, you may be wishing that you, too, were able to take time off, and start thinking about that," says David Ballard, PsyD, head of the American Psychological Association's Center for Organizational Excellence.
But working through vacation season doesn't have to be a no-win situation. You might not be able to control how distracted you get, but Dr. Ballard says that you can start regaining focus by asking yourself why you're checking out. Even if it seems like the obvious answer is that everyone is clocking out early to enjoy the weather, he says that your distraction could be a sign of some serious burnout.
"Maybe you’re overstressed, burned out, and need a break, so you’re at that point where you’re distracted and not motivated," he says. "It’s a sign that you need that break. When you’re constantly stressed and burned out, it does affect your motivation. You’re more likely to check out."
Maybe you’re overstressed, burned out, and need a break, so you’re at that point where you’re distracted and not motivated.
David Ballard, PsyD
If you're not able to take an extended break or even a personal day anytime soon, Dr. Ballard recommends doing some small things to take care of yourself in the meantime. Maybe you take a walk to try out a new lunch spot instead of ordering a desk salad, or you reward yourself by scrolling through Instagram when you get something done.
That advice, he says, also applies if you don't have a vacation planned, but are generally distracted by the nicer weather — maybe a small break to enjoy the sun is just what you need to get back in the zone.
If you really are just unmotivated because you have a trip coming up, Dr. Ballard suggests zeroing in on your to-do list by trying your best not to multi-task.
"We always think we’re efficient, and we can juggle, but most people don’t multitask effectively, and you actually perform worse on all the tasks you need to do," he says. "It’s more like divided attention, and you’re not actually doing it all, you’re shifting your attention back and forth."
Instead, he says to carve out time to focus on one thing at a time. If you need to, schedule time out on your calendar for specific things just to keep yourself on schedule so that when it's time for vacation, you're not wearing yourself out over all the loose ends you need to tie up before you go. That way, you can make sure you enjoy the vacation you deserve, instead of worrying about everything that's going to pile up in your inbox while you're jet-setting.