I just returned from a 10-day vacation in Europe sans laptop and sans roaming data plan. Regretfully I wasn't brave enough to go completely "unplugged." Using my smartphone I did glance at email via hotel wifi in the evenings.

But the rest of the time was spent in the real, non-virtual 3D world - a refreshing change from my habitual screen-bound existence!

The result upon returning home: a bit jet-lagged but mentally relaxed and refreshed, with energy and enthusiasm for my clients and other work. This was a special trip for me and my family, but I've felt similarly refreshed when returning from a week at the cottage.

There's lots of research (such as that described here and here) showing that taking a vacation helps boost overall work productivity and insulates against stress symptoms.

But you don't need science to tell you that taking a break is rejuvenating.

On the other hand there's no paid time off for clinicians in private practice.

Vacation - Can I afford to take time off?

There's a cost to taking a vacation, not just in terms of travel expenses, but also in terms of "lost" income while you're away from the office. If you have bills to pay, it can feel scary to take time off work.

But if you don't take breaks, you'll be prone to fatigue and burnout, which can have serious adverse consequences for your health as well as for your professional effectiveness.

Consider vacation time as an investment. Your clients will receive much better service from you when you are refreshed. Satisfied clients will refer other people to you - so that in the long run your business may increase as a result of taking time off!

Thus, the question is not, "Can I afford to take time off?" but rather, "Can I afford NOT to take time off?"

Set up your "paid" vacation

You don't have an employer to provide you with paid vacation benefits, but as your own employer you can build vacation time into your business plan.

Set aside time. Calculate your annual projected income based on 48 weeks per year, or 46 weeks per year...or however many weeks you think you'll need. That way you'll feel less guilty about taking time off.

Set aside money. Just as you put money into a retirement fund, set aside money for vacations. Even if it's a small amount, having a designated fund will make it easier to budget.

Collect on accounts receivable while you're gone. Before leaving for vacation make sure your billing is up to date. File claims for every insurance client, even if it's just for a single session. Send follow-up notices to clients and agencies who have outstanding balances. Hopefully by the time you return to the office you'll have a few extra checks or direct deposits waiting for you.

Still not convinced that you should take a vacation? Consider this: Years from now will you say to yourself, "I wish I had spent more time at the office"?

Photo by DanielKaempfe via Flickr.com