Americans tend to be obsessed with work. Some of us view taking time off as a sign of weakness, or suspect that going away for a few days will open the door for someone else to take our spot.

The average American worker took 17.2 days off in 2017 according to data from Project: Time Off. That's the most since 2010, but it's not enough: 52% of the U.S. workforce had unused vacation days in 2017.

Like the majority of Americans, I'm not great at taking time off. As a self-employed writer, I only get paid when I work, and when I'm not working I feel like I'm goofing off. That's an attitude that likely predates my current employment situation, as even when I had traditional jobs I always left earned vacation days on the table.

That's why this year I made a pledge to take some actual time off, rather than time in a different location where I still worked. Doing so has been a revelation, and I intend to take even more time off going forward.

A man and a woman relax on beach chairs.

Taking time off can make you better at your job when you return. Image source: Getty Images.

1. You're more burned out than you know

Work becomes a rhythm. In my case, I get up around 7, start my day by sending some emails, then write a story or two on my couch before heading to a coffee shop for more writing. I generally take a swim break around 2, then pick my son up at the bus at 3:30 before putting in a couple more hours at the computer.

I've never felt burned out, but when I woke up a few days ago in the Bahamas with nothing on my plate aside from deciding between the pool or the beach I realized I was. It took a few days of tropical drinks, clear blue water, and doing nothing before my brain let go of the stress of always being on.

2. Life goes on without you

I like to feel like I'm pretty important at work. My writing, in my opinion, fills a void that other Motley Fool contributors can't quite fill. I'm also part of various non-writing projects where I feel sort of essential.

In reality, while it might be noticed if I was gone permanently, in the short-term few people, if any, realize that I'm not working. Even my most ardent fans likely have no idea how many stories I write each day or when they get published, and missing a few days won't cause any panic.

3. It's good to be missed

In many cases, taking time off requires other people to step in and do your work. It's possible they won't find it difficult and will be shocked you get paid for doing so little. It's more likely, however, that whoever pitches in during your absence will be more than happy to hand the ball back to you when you return.

It's a big world

West Palm Beach, where I live, and the Bahamas (where I'm waiting for a ride to the airport as I write this) share roughly the same weather. Both places are a sort of tropical paradise, but aside from palm trees and hot weather, the two locations share very little and the change is delightful.

The Bahamas has a very tourist-first vibe. Hospitality personnel say hello on the streets, and while service can be a tad slow, most people you meet seem fairly vested in you having a good time. Locals have helped me cross the street (it's a bit tricky where there are no stop lights) and taken the time to learn my name and share some stories.

These are experiences I simply can't have sitting on my couch or working at a coffee shop. In my line of work, that can directly make my writing better since every new experience can be drawn upon. For you the connection may not be as direct, but seeing new things, doing something different, meeting new people, or maybe just lounging in a pool or the ocean is good for everyone.

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