In one of my favorite cartoons, a Buddhist monk has removed the ribbon and wrapping paper from a birthday present and is gazing with unrestrained joy into what is obviously an empty box. In the caption, he is saying, “Nothing! Just what I wanted!”

I studied a little about Eastern religions in college, but it's as a former remodeler that I understand what a lucky man this monk is. Especially at this time of year, when summer's end reminds remodelers everywhere that time is running out on the one thing they haven't done all year: nothing. Maybe “couldn't do” is a better way of putting it, because nothing is one thing remodelers don't do well.

Sal Alfano
Mark Robert Halper Sal Alfano

I speak from experience, of course, having just returned from a vacation during which I once again failed at doing nothing. In fact, I relapsed badly, not merely reading e-mail but actually answering a few of them and even making one phone call to the office.

I'll admit I may be a hopeless case — I spent 20 years as a remodeler and never once during that time took a proper vacation. But those of you reading this still have a chance to turn yourselves around. Here are some simple but critical rules.

Take two weeks off. Consecutively. This is an absolute minimum. One week is just not enough time to truly disconnect from the day-to-day routine. Adding a weekend at either end doesn't count. It's important to allow yourself enough time to completely forget not just what's going on back at the office, but that there even is an office.

Go unplugged. Difficult, but essential. It's virtually impossible to do nothing for two weeks unless you leave your electronic gadgets at home. If you need your mobile phone for emergencies, fine, but turn it off so no one else's emergency can reach you.

If it isn't bound, don't read it. That should limit you to books and magazines — no contracts, no job folders, no e-mail. (Yardage markers and menus excepted.)

Don't leave a number. Employees, subs, and clients should be clueless to your whereabouts. If you must, tell the grandparents where you'll be if they're watching over the kids, but that's it.

Pick a date. Now. Don't wait for work to slow down. Plan your schedule around your vacation instead of squeezing your vacation into your schedule.

Vacate. As in “to cause to be empty,” like the monk's birthday present. This means going somewhere work isn't.

Remember, the first vacation is the hardest. Soon, however, you come to realize that a vacation may be the only time you truly get something for nothing.