The story goes that after months of working to determine the structure of DNA, scientist James Watson took some time off to relax. And then it hit him. After he woke up from a dream about a spiral staircase, he realized the structure of DNA was a double helix.

I just got back from a week’s vacation in glorious northern Michigan. While I didn’t have any great revelations in my dreams, I was reminded of the story about Watson. The moral of the story is this: people need downtime to relax, process information and tap into the power of their subconscious mind. There is such a thing as working too hard; working day and night can wear people down and make them unproductive and unhealthy. Just like athletes can train too much before a big event, undergoing such a rigid practice regimen that it actually wears them down, workers can work too hard for too long, becoming exhausted an inefficient.

It’s not a strictly American phenomenon, but like many things, we’ve taken working too hard to new heights. Many workers in European countries have far more vacation days than their counterparts in the United States. Could it be that more vacation days would make us more productive as a whole?

 Think of it this way: doing a few 10-pound curls is easy. But keep doing them nonstop, and soon doing even one more is impossible. Human beings need time to rest and recover from strenuous activity. Sometimes it takes a week by the lake to put things in perspective.