Leisure time, are you good at it?

Christina G. Leonore Nerstad

The holiday is finally here, isn’t it great! But when the calendar is cleared from job meetings, are you able to take the time off completely and do the things that give you energy?

Vacations are good for both the body and soul. Lower your shoulders. Take a deep breath. Finally, you have the chance to unwind and recover.

But we live in a society focused on efficiency and optimization. Why should we log off entirely from the start of the holidays, and are we capable of taking time off from what we “should” do?

Holidays - a productivity hack?

Everyone likes the holidays, but society is built around work. Work is what we are living for, right?  

Henry Ford, who in his time reduced working hours from 10 to 8 hours a day and eventually introduced 5 days working weeks, has stated: “of course, there is a humanitarian side to the shorter day and the shorter week, but dwelling on that side is likely to get one into trouble, for then leisure may be put before work instead of after work – where it belongs”.

But the holiday is not there for the job, it exists to give you an opportunity to do something else. Leisure is useful—but only insofar as it remains leisure.

The root of all good

According to research in the field, the health effects of taking time from work are big enough to be deemed sacred.

“Recovering is crucial for our well-being. Logging off contributes to better sleep and more positive emotions. Over time, it also is important for our satisfaction with life”, says Christina Nerstad, Professor at Department of Leadership and Organizational Behavior. She refers to a recent study that summarizes the findings of 198 research articles about the importance of work recovery.

Christina Nerstad

Professor Christina G. L. Nerstad has studied what creates energy at work, but can also recommend how to best spend your time off. 


Then the question is, how should we spend our leisure time? Should we travel to the equator and float in the turquoise ocean or take a couple of summit hiking trips? It may not take much travel to harvest the effects of free time.  

Spend time on what gives you energy

“It is not necessarily the holiday activity itself that is decisive. It is more about what that activity provides on a psychological level”, explains Nerstad who has researched how to keep up the energy levels at work. There are no right answers to which activities you should prioritize.

According to Nerstad, we recover when we are experiencing the following:

  1. Psychological detachment – when we free ourselves mentally from work
  2. Relaxation – when we experience a low degree of activation, few demands from others, and high levels of positive emotions.
  3. Experiences of mastery – when we feel we master what we spend our time on.
  4. Autonomy – when we control what we spend our time on, how and with whom.

The positive impact from these experiences is that they make us better equipped to cope with challenges in life. These experiences fill up our “resource reservoirs”, making us better able to handle negative stress. This will give us a higher degree of well-being.

A few pitfalls

So, ask yourself, should you spend your holidays organizing a big dinner party, if the kitchen is your losing battlefield, or let your better half decide the vacations’ activities, although you get joy and energy from something else?

Maybe you also have a long and unachievable to-do-list for your holidays. Are you planning to redecorate your bedroom, to clear out the basement and finish the half-done project from last summer? Preferably all at once. Don’t make yourself a slave of the tyranny of productivity.      

Also, if you made your hobbies into areas where you must perform, achieve and professionalise, do they really give you the relaxation you need? What happened to being happy with mediocracy?

Holidays are fresh produce

When the holiday is coming to an end, and you have been good at taking time off completely. Your batteries have been charged and you are full of energy. Hopefully. How long does the effect last?

“Although studies show that health and well-being are improved by taking time off, these effects don’t last very long, unfortunately. This emphasizes the importance of unwinding apart from the holidays, for example in the weekends”, says Nerstad.

In other words, it is important to regularly prioritize leisure time.  


Steed LB, Swider BW, Keem S, Liu JT. Leaving Work at Work: A Meta-Analysis on Employee Recovery From Work. Journal of Management. 2021;47(4):867-897. doi:10.1177/0149206319864153

de Bloom, J., et al. (2010). "Effects of vacation from work on health and well-being: Lots of fun, quickly gone." Work & Stress 24(2): 196-216. https://doi.org/10.1080/02678373.2010.493385

Published 22. December 2021

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