Late this summer, I took a long vacation and was reminded just how much I enjoy relaxing. Like most everyone, I’m busy in regular life and often forget about taking it easy. But man-oh-man, relaxing feels good. My days were filled with sight-seeing, reading, walking, exercising, napping and eating. I didn’t have a “to do” list. I even read four books! The days took care of themselves. I felt calm, peaceful and refreshed.

And then I returned home and it abruptly ended. I got back to real life and there wasn’t a speck of relaxation to be found anywhere. At times I felt overwhelmed and longed to be back on vacation when I had few choices and even fewer responsibilities. Under those conditions, I was good at relaxing. But, unfortunately, in real life, not so much.

There has got to be a better way. It’s time for a change! I don’t want to relax only when I’m on vacation; I want to find a way to kick back more in real life.

I decided to give it a try – how hard can it be? Learn how to enjoy myself more? That sounds like an easy assignment with lots of payback. Or so I thought.

I’ve Tried Before (and Failed)

After my trip, I had been excited to get back to regular life, but I was also scared. I didn’t want to lose that blissed out feeling when I got back on life’s treadmill. Sure, I’m good on the treadmill and like it. My schedule can be exciting and productive. However, as I was recently reminded, I enjoy not working too. I’m just not that good at it in my regular life. It’s easier for me to work than to relax.

I’ve tried to become more chill after past vacations, but have failed. I have good intentions, but before I know it, my old habits kick in and I’m scheduled within an inch of my life. My husband teases me that I need to fire my “Scheduling Secretary” (who is me).

I wanted this time to be different. I didn’t want to stop relaxing until my next getaway. I wanted to have some unstructured time in my routine because as they say, how you spend your days is how you spend your life. I don’t want my tombstone to say, “She was busy.”

Busyness Comes Naturally

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I value efficiency. I’m always looking for ways to be more productive, with less effort. I love getting things done. But despite lots of organization and planning, there’s always more to do. And so, I do more until I run out of time and/or energy and the day is over. And then I do it again the next day.

I’ve been this way since I was little. My preschool teachers at conferences would tell my mom how conscientious I was. In 7th grade, I remember feeling overwhelmed with activities, sports and homework. At school, I’d write down that evening’s schedule, starting with a snack at 3:30 pm, followed by homework at 3:45 pm, 5 p.m. practice the piano, etc., until bedtime.

After my mom passed away a couple of years ago, I was going through some of her files and found a print-out of an email I had sent her years ago. I wrote about how I wanted to work less hard and be less busy. She and I emailed each other most days, so the fact that she printed this one out and kept it meant something. She wanted this for me too.

Some people need to do more; some need to do less. I once had a wise yoga teacher that would remind us of this when we were tackling a challenging pose. She told us that those us of who need to work more, should push themselves. And those who need to work less, should not. I knew where I fell and liked the idea of trying to do less, not more, instead of the other way around.

Overall, I love my life – the many people I get to see, the interesting things I get to work on, and the fun I have with my friends. But too much of a good thing is…well… too much.

And this is embarrassing to admit, but my busyness is 100% self-imposed. I have a lot of flexibility with my work and schedule. My kids no longer live at home. My husband is easy-going. There’s no external reason why I can’t relax more, just internal ones.

First Week Back: Relaxation Failure

After vacation, I returned to regular life, armed with good intentions. I would approach my commitments with Zen-like calm. I would glide through my schedule and find time to read. I would prioritize and not do things that weren’t important me. I would meditate every day. I was going to savor that feeling of vacation back in real life.

However, one week after returning, I had failed miserably. I had forgotten how being away from real life requires some catching up. Sadly, I didn’t have a spare minute to myself. In one week, I had read just one paragraph in my book. My “to do” list had hijacked my relaxation plans.

My temperament and tendency to over-schedule had won out.

Two Weeks Post-Vacation

After my first hectic week back, my life calmed down a bit.

I’m well into an excellent book that draws me in whenever I have a moment. It’s like a captivating movie that’s waiting for me, whenever I can turn it on.

But this is not enough. I wish I was relaxing more and working less.

Vacation Hour

I decided to begin scheduling a “Vacation Hour” every so often. I put it on my calendar like any other meeting or commitment. During this time, I can do whatever I want to do, as long as it’s something I would do on vacation. I can exercise, get a massage, work out, nap, read,  go on a walk, etc.

Scheduling a “Vacation Hour” may sound like an uptight approach to relaxation and maybe it is. But I know from experience what happens when I don’t schedule time like this – it doesn’t happen. While it may not be an ideal approach, it’s worth a try.

I took two “Vacation Hours” this past weekend. I excitedly looked forward to them! I started my “vacations” by reading and quickly realized I was tired and took a short nap. At the end of my hour, I felt refreshed and relaxed. I was in a better mood too.

After I get the hang of “Vacation Hour” once or twice a week, I may even live on the wild side and add a third one. This practice may gain momentum and build on itself because it feels good.

I’m excited! I better get busy, schedule some “Vacation Hours” and start relaxing. I hope you can too.