By Liz Massey, June 2015 Issue.

By the time you read this column, school will be winding down and many folks will be planning and anticipating their summer vacation. Valley residents seem evenly split between escaping the blast-furnace temperatures of June and enduring the desert heat in order to take advantage of “staycation” pricing at the area’s top resorts.

Despite the amount of time Americans dedicate to talking about vacations, we actually lag far behind much of the developed world when it comes to taking time off. Employees only use 51 percent of their eligible paid vacation time, according to a recent survey by Harris Interactive, and up to one-fourth of them take work with them on their vacation.

In fact, there’s a growing body of research that validates the theory that beyond a very modest amount of overtime – like maybe a 50-hour workweek – extra time on the clock contributes nothing to overall productivity. Health experts have identified having a sedentary job as a bona fide medical risk, one that is not offset by regular exercise. Other experts are pinpointing what actually helps us thrive at work, and many of them, like the Mayo Clinic’s James Levine, says it isn’t putting our nose to the grindstone for an extra hour. “The thought process is not designed to be continuous,” he told the New York Times.

Those of us in the LGBT community – many of whom have had to pursue our activism on top of a full-time job – are well acquainted with the risks of attempting to follow a schedule with no room for play or rest. People who don’t make time to think things through are far more likely to approve bad work policies, sit through hellish, pointless meetings, produce crappy, half-baked products and services, or (worst of all) become angry, burnt-out activists.

Because I’ve spent much of the past 15 years working with design teams to produce print magazines, I’ve learned the value of what is known as “white space.” The reason white space is critical in design is because it creates room to appreciate visual context and to take in the bigger picture. Likewise, our lives require a significant time buffer in order for creative solutions to receive the cross-pollination and incubation time they require.

No matter how achievement-oriented you may be in your career, or how committed to LGBT equality you may be, leaving a little white space in the margins of your existence is essential. To believe otherwise is to court burnout, exhaustion and dropping out from the activities in life that are truly meaningful to you. And that will deprive all of us of your gifts and talents.

Hillary Rettig, in her 2006 book The Lifelong Activist, tells readers that, “Burnout is caused by living a life in conflict with your values and needs.” She advises those who would do good in the world to take care of themselves for the long haul, since most of the world’s problems won’t be resolved quickly. She concludes, “The only cure for this kind of burnout is to be truthful about who you are, what your values are, and what your needs are, and to start reorganizing your life around that truth.”

Although carving out white space is important for everyone, not all of us have weeks of vacation allotted to us. How can we take a step back if we aren’t allowed time for a proper mental/physical retreat? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Don’t skip sleep. Get up as late as possible and go to bed as early as possible. Sleep is the new prestige item – and most of us don’t get nearly enough.

2. Cultivate sloth. Figure out which method works best for you: napping, meditation, free-association journaling, or just staring out the window while you sit on the light rail. The goal is to have time when you are a human being, not a human doing.

3. Pursue hobbies. Hobbies help us remember there is more to life than work. My current favorites – riding my grown-up tricycle around the neighborhood and creating custom musical playlists (the contemporary equivalent of the mix tape) – are both unlikely to significantly advance my career, but they both satisfy the needs of my inner 10-year-old.

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Photo courtesy of Michael Feinstein.

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