Outcry on Overheard: Coding on the Beach

Credit: Qingyi Dong/ Credit: Qingyi Dong/ Credit: Qingyi Dong/ Credit: Qingyi Dong/
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You’re walking to a beach with crystal clear water and white sands, when you look over to your best friend and say, “I can’t wait to sit on the beach and code.” This sounds like something straight out of a cartoon parodying the little to no work-life balance at a university like Carnegie Mellon, but sadly, this was one of many posts that involved coding, working, or anything far from a conventional spring break.

Because of Spring Break, the majority of students were away from Overheard at Carnegie Mellon for the week, partying with friends, relaxing on the beach, or coding their hearts away. This resulted in little to no controversies this week, so instead, I look to address a cultural issue that is prevalent in the posts of those that did spend their Spring Break on Overheard.

It’s a common misconception that the more hours we work, the more that we get done. By this logic, if one is looking to maximize their semester, it would make sense to work through the entire Spring Break and progress ahead of peers that are wasting time on a sunny beach. However, numerous studies have concluded that taking time for relaxation and vacation actually increases the amount of work that we can get done. In 2006, Ernst & Young, a multinational professional services firm, found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation time that their employees took, those employees actually performed better at work and supervisor ratings increased 8 percent. These vacation days keep employees happy, less burnt-out, and rested up for their return. In the same ways that they improved the employees’ performance, Spring Break relaxation can improve the performance of burnt-out Carnegie Mellon students.

This misconception that more work equals more productivity has an economic cost on the nation as a whole. According to an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study, despite having more than 30 mandated vacation days per year, employees in both Germany and France are more productive than their American counterparts. In other words, they are working fewer days and getting more done. America is infamous for the lack of vacation days taken by its citizens, but utilizing more of their vacation days for relaxation and outside experiences would actually result in an increase in the country’s happiness and result in more productive work hours.

Extending beyond the productivity argument, several research studies, including one from San Francisco State University, have concluded that people were happier when they spent money on experiences rather than material possessions. One’s happiness is arguably one of the most important things in life. In addition to making them more productive, happiness results in a more fulfilling, meaningful life with purpose. If you spend more time traveling, having meaningful experiences, and just enjoying life outside of work, you’ll have an all-around more enjoyable life than if you are striving to maximize the money you make every day and your material profits.

During Spring Break, you should leave that computer in the room and replace your interactions with it with interactions with other people. Whether an introvert or extrovert, there are clear health benefits to human interaction. As psychologist Susan Pinker states, “If you see people face to face, there’s a biological cascade of events that happens, and we’re finding out that these biological events, such as hormones that are released, help to protect your health.” She argues that there are clear health benefits from social interactions, such as the fact that men with intimate relationships “are better protected by their social relationships than they are by medication after a heart attack or stroke,” and that spending more time with others can actually increase one’s lifespan. By nature, humans are social beings. Close relationships with others are one of the most fulfilling and beneficial things that can be achieved in life and can even extend one’s lifespan.

As a self-proclaimed workaholic, I’m not saying that you should not work. Work is important and leads to achieving goals that can impact those around you and leave you with fulfillment that you could not find anywhere else. However, experiences, social interactions, and vacations are important to self-fulfillment and living happy lives. Your productivity is not a function of the hours that you work, and you may find that by giving a few days (or even just a few hours) to yourself, you’ll come out happier, more productive, and more ready to tackle your next challenge.