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Treat your vacation like a vacation, not like a part-time job

As I write this, I am on vacation. I thought about skipping this week’s column to have more time for myself. But instead, I wanted to emphasize the importance of treating vacations like vacations. It sounds obvious and you’ve probably heard it a million times before. But it seems that we need to be reminded from time to time.

I’ve heard a number of reasons lawyers try to work. Some have procrastinated when they shouldn’t have and think they can work in small increments. Others had vacations imposed on them because it was the only time the whole family could do it. And a few are workaholics and just aren’t used to taking vacations. They love their job so much.

I should add a note here: if you can work successfully while on vacation and it doesn’t burden you and your family, then you have more power.

But for everyone else, don’t let work get in the way of your vacation.

First, if you work while you’re on vacation, you’re not on vacation. You just work in a different place.

Also, you may have wasted the money you paid for this vacation. Because you were working, you lost or impaired quality time with your family or for your own enjoyment. You won’t enjoy the tour as much because you’ve been up an hour or two longer. And just because you worked while on vacation doesn’t mean the cost is tax deductible.

And chances are the work product will be average or below standard. Your work will feel forced and lack the creative, diligent energy that is normally present.

Some think they can work on the plane. Most likely they won’t, especially if they’re sitting in economy class. Other passengers can be noisy. The person sitting next to you may be irritable for several reasons. And of course, your laptop may contain sensitive information that you don’t want others to see. Personally, I even found the business class seats unsuitable for work because the workspaces in these seats are too small. You might be able to write a boring vacation blog post or answer a few emails. But it’s not like working on a big desk.

Some think they can work a few hours in their hotel. Maybe you can answer a few emails or have a little chat, but that’s about it. If you go on vacation to another country, chances are you suffer from jet lag. That means you’ll be too tired to stay up late. Or you can stay up late but you’ll be groggy in the morning. This can be a problem if your city tour starts at 7am and you’ve only had four hours of sleep that night.

Finally, think of the holidays as a reminder of why we work so hard in college, during law school, the early years of our careers, and even now.

I have found that most clients, bosses, and even opposing attorneys will understand. And we should extend the same holiday courtesy to others. I would be happy to meet the vacation needs of clients, government auditors, lawyers and tax collectors. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because these people also tend to be more pleasant to work with when they return.

So if you ever have the opportunity to take a vacation, don’t let work get in the way. Plan ahead, don’t procrastinate and delay or delegate while you’re away. I should also mention that taking vacations can improve productivity and mental health. But if you want to learn more about the health benefits of vacationing, I’m just asking you for today to do your own research.

I am on vacation.

Steven Chung is a tax attorney in Los Angeles, California. He helps people with basic tax planning and resolves tax disputes. He is also sympathetic to people who have large student loans. He can be contacted by email at Or you can connect with him on Twitter (@stevenchung) and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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