Leadership

What Oprah Winfrey and Richard Branson can teach you about taking vacations

Sir Richard Branson walks up Cottesloe Beach after arriving by kite surfer.
Paul Kane | Getty Images
Sir Richard Branson walks up Cottesloe Beach after arriving by kite surfer.

Some of the world's most successful people, including Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, billionaire Richard Branson and former eBay CEO John Donahoe, understand the importance of taking regular vacations.

The average American worker could learn a thing or two from them.

In fact, about 54 percent of U.S. workers end the year with unused paid time off, according to the annual Project: Time Off report. The study was conducted by the market research company GFK, through an online survey of adult employees. The report points out that not taking a vacation hurts overall productivity and that breaks from work are necessary.

Here's what these highly successful people have to say about the importance of taking time off:

Oprah Winfrey

The media mogul realized early on the importance of carving time out for herself. Winfrey says that she was working hundreds of hours per week as a reporter in her 20s. It wasn't until she began to feel burnt out that she realized the importance of taking vacations.

"Now, when I begin to feel exhausted, I pull back," says Winfrey. She adds: "When I don't, I absolutely become stressed, irritable, anxiety-prone and not the person I want to be in the world."

Winfrey tells Fast Company that taking vacation has been tough to schedule. However, she's finally learned to say: "Okay, from these days to these days, I'm not going to be checking into the office."

Richard Branson

The self-made billionaire says he enjoys spending time at his home on Necker Island. The reason: There's "no better place for me to unwind."

The entrepreneur also provides unlimited vacation time to his employees.

Branson makes sure he disconnects from work by leaving his smartphone at home or in a hotel room when he's vacationing. "Freed from the daily stresses of my working life, I find that I am more likely to have insights into old problems," says Branson.

Reed Hastings

The Netflix CEO tells CNBC that he takes six weeks of vacation a year and pushes his employees to do the same. "I take a lot of vacation and I'm hoping that certainly sets an example," says Hastings.

The company's nearly 2,200 full-time employees are given unlimited vacation days. Over the course of his years running the company, Hastings says he found that it's important to be flexible and focus on work-life balance.

"You often do your best thinking when you're off hiking in some mountain or something," adds Hastings. "You get a different perspective on things."

John Donahoe

The former eBay CEO adheres to this personal mantra: "Time off pays off."

Donahue says he tries to completely disconnect for two weeks, which helps his mind calm down and reinvigorates his intuition.

The businessman admits that the process of cutting off from work is stressful in the beginning but quickly becomes liberating.

"There's still no substitute for taking a legitimate vacation," says Donahue. "Time spent away to refresh and refocus is really not time off. It's just time better spent."

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See also:

5 things you can start doing today to be more successful at work

How I saved more than $400 on my Paris vacation before even leaving for the airport

8 highly successful execs share their best career advice for 20-somethings